Here’s a lesson one brand is learning this week: Basing a Super Bowl ad campaign around the idea of a pop-culture celebrity death is a risky idea. Last week, Planters unveiled an ad in which its mascot, Mr. Peanut, sacrifices his own life to save his commercial co-stars Matt Walsh and Wesley Snipes. It’s an incredibly weird spot that kicked off Planters’ Super Bowl ad campaign, which went around Twitter and sparked reactions from brands and non-brands alike. The ad currently has over 6 million views on YouTube and over 2 million views on Twitter.
As with any viral Brand Twitter campaign, reactions were mixed. Brands responded and played along, people responded and played along, there was plenty of dunking at Planters’ expense, and Saturday Night Live even covered it during a “Weekend Update” segment.
Speaking to CNBC last week, Mike Pierantozzi from VaynerMedia, the agency behind the campaign, said it was inspired by the internet’s response to the death of Iron Man. “When Iron Man died, we saw an incredible reaction on Twitter and on social media. It’s such a strange phenomenon,” he said. “We did the unthinkable: we created a program and an idea where Mr. Peanut dies, and dies specifically sacrificing himself for his friends, which has always been a tenet of who he is and what he does — he always puts others first.”
The original plan for the campaign was to continue ramping up the social-media engagement until the Super Bowl, when the first Planters ad would play before the game then be followed up by an ad that would “broadcast Mr. Peanut’s funeral” during the third quarter. But the campaign to unite the internet around the death of a pop-culture icon hit a snag when news of the death of a real pop-culture icon broke on Sunday, and seeing tweets about Kobe Bryant’s death alongside promoted Planters #RIPPeanut tweets looked, well, not great.
According to Ad Age, Planters has — at least for now — paused its #RIPPeanut campaign. In a statement, the brand said, “We are saddened by this weekend’s news and Planters has paused all campaign activities, including paid media, and will evaluate next steps through a lens of sensitivity to those impacted by this tragedy.” In a later statement given to Business Insider, the brand confirmed the online campaign was paused but “no change has been made to our plans for Super Bowl Sunday.” The show, and the funeral, will apparently go on.
Just to add an extra wrinkle to all of this, it should be noted that “Mr. Peanut dies” isn’t even an idea that Planters or VaynerMedia was the first to come up with, and it’s not the first time it’s led to controversy. Just last year, comedian Luke Taylor did a months-long bit in which he left negative replies to the Mr. Peanut Twitter account and threatened to kill the Planters mascot. Taylor’s tweets to the Mr. Peanut account ultimately got him banned from Twitter, which he wrote about in a piece for Vice in July. In addition to getting banned, Taylor’s bit was criticized for encouraging abusive language against social-media managers, who have enough vitriol to read during their workdays as it is. In his Vice piece, Taylor argued that as brands personify themselves more and more on Twitter (take Sunny D’s depression tweets from last year, for example), his bit should’ve been taken at face value for what it was: threatening the life not of an employee but of a fictional cartoon character mascot, who in recent months had turned into a giant horndog.
Taylor’s bit prompted a debate about how regular people should and shouldn’t interact with big brand accounts, while this week’s #RIPPeanut mishap is mostly a case of bad timing — or, for some, a reminder that maybe a fake death and funeral aren’t a great idea for an ad campaign. But really, this is just another absurd blip in Brand Twitter history, and when you compare it with what we’ve seen already — brands posting things like incredibly misguided 9/11 tweets, extremely horny tweets, and jars of human pee — an ill-timed funeral publicity stunt seems almost quaint.
Update, Sunday: From ashes to ashes, from dust to dust, from butter to butter, Mr. Peanut died, only to be born anew as Baby Nut, the Baby Yoda version of the nutty spokesman, in the brand’s Super Bowl commercial. Praise be?