Prince cheerios hed 2016

How we respond to brands responding to Prince

Capsule View: What Prince taught us about being human and being a brand

The tragic and way too early departure of Prince from our community is a sad occasion. Many of us mourn, and we all know mourning is a highly personal endeavor that knows no boundaries. He was the music of my childhood and I vividly remember having a boyhood crush on the girl in the “Raspberry Beret” music video on MTV.

Thank you, Prince. We miss you.

As fans and members of a social and connected community, many have responded by cultivating a public conversation around favorite songs, “Purple Rain” tributes, and an overall appreciation for the authentic inspiration that radiated from the star. Many, including brands.

Do brands have a place to participate here? This controversial analysis of who responded and how sent our office into a full on debate on brand ethics.

Aaron, our Managing Partner, provides his commentary:

Brands are a human invention. We designed these intangible things to be an extension of us as humans and eventually corporations, serving as a handshake of trust. Though, corporations are not humans, and they are challenged everyday to behave more human for the good of the public.

Corporations are legally separate from us as human beings. This gives corporations the freedom to find the outer legal boundaries to do business, generate revenue and return financial results to their shareholders. The brand, while it has legal boundaries protected by intellectual property laws, is a more powerful force when considered for its cultural influence. If the legal department keeps a brand from going over the legal lines, the brand keeps a corporation inside the ethical lines. The brand makes the corporation more human and accountable to human beings.

So, how does this relate to Prince?

Prince was a living person and a brand. The living person has left us, yet the brand continues to live on in our memories, our culture, and community. The brand is much larger than the person -- take a look at the top iTunes charts. Fortunately for us, we can continue to love the brand of Prince through his music, movies and acts of symbolic defiance.

Brands like Cheerios and Hamburger Helper seemed to take most of the media heat for giving a nod to the passing of a human being. Perhaps because they used elements from existing ad campaigns (the Cheerio as the dot on an I), it felt like an advertisement. This is likely baggage left from the era when advertising managed brands.

Times have changed and brands are now members of our community. The more they act human, the more we can make them accountable for being human inventions. So, for those at General Mills considering what went wrong, be sure to know there are people who want you to be out there engaged in more human conversations. Brands have the right -- and really the obligation -- to show a human side.

On the up side, 3M paid tribute with a beautifully crafted statement that involved changing their own identity to support the identity of Prince. Chevrolet also showed up with an elegant nod of relevancy, remembering their own past history together. These were two brands that responded with effort and thoughtfulness, to join the community in an authentic way.

Furthermore, 3M is a large corporation of engineers, chemists and scientists; the least likely to appear human of many brands in our community. Yet, there they are, paying homage to a local hero and under pressure from AdWeek and local advertising community seeing the 3M brand through old lenses.

To those who did it well, we appreciate your human side. We appreciate you sticking to your views. And we appreciate the effort and the hope for a future where brands can act with qualities we aspire to as humans.

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