Society’s current social media climate makes it difficult for brands to navigate when they should or shouldn t respond to media pressure or consumer sentiment about their brands. When your brand is cast in a negative light, due to no fault of your own, it s murky territory to tread.

In the media storm surrounding the facts of the Trayvon Martin tragedy, popular brands Skittles and Arizona Iced Tea have been inextricably linked to the case whether they like it or not. Supporters of the Martin family have been sending bags of Skittles to the Sanford, Fla., police chief as a symbol of solidarity. Both Skittles and Arizona currently have a highly active digital and social media presence.

In a similar turn of social perception, the popular toy brand Etch-A-Sketch, was recently linked to a comment by an aide of a GOP presidential candidate comparing the campaign platform similar to the toy, and resetting when the election begins. What a gaffe! Within a day, a company that is not currently active in social media, has responded to a media firestorm and also tacitly benefited from sales of the toy in not even 48 hours time. The brand has also remained in the top 10 worldwide trending topics on Twitter for two days.

The question for Skittles and Arizona Beverage Company is not so much, when to respond, but how? A brand doesn t have to take a stance politically, socially or otherwise when their brand is mentioned and their dollars were not used for the resulting media attention. It s their prerogative as a brand to get involved, or not.

Focusing on Skittles, who has presumably seen a slight if not major uptick in sales due to the tragedy, as a social media professional I would suggest that the brand acknowledge their unintended association.

Given the brand’s propensity for quirkiness and obtuse comedy, if I were their community manager I would suggest that they tweet an equally quirky yet thoughtful message:

Skittles aren’t a weapon. They are a device for mouth happiness.

There, you ve acknowledged the elephant in the room, without becoming too involved which always an issue in charged social situations.

Alysha Walker, a PR professional, suggested that “the brand should at least offer a statement of condolence to the family [since their brands] have been all over the news being the “weapons” in the hands of a child who was gunned down. The fact that Skittles has been used as a tool in the march speaks volumes, so why not acknowledge it.”

Today in a statement, a spokeswoman for Skittles said:

“We are deeply saddened by the news of Trayvon Martin’s death and express our sincere condolences to his family and friends. We also respect their privacy and feel it inappropriate to get involved or comment further as we would never wish for our actions to be perceived as an attempt of commercial gain following this tragedy.”

Determining the best course of action for your brand in a situation that is not of your own doing is critical and necessary. Brands are often defined by their action or inaction in times where media awareness is high. This is a teachable moment for all brands.


Denitria Lewis is a Cultural Sommelier and Founder of The DNYREE Group, a Cultural Marketing & Media Consulting Firm. She is an avid cultural observer who can be found waxing poetic about travel, youth, human nature, and her obsession with social media. For more random observations about the intersection of culture and social media follow her on twitter @ambereuros