Skittles, Trayvon Martin and Corporate Responsibility

One of the web’s biggest social media successes suddenly goes silent

By Claude Brodesser-Akner

Over the last four years, Skittles has enjoyed an enviable social-media presence — with some 25 million followers on Facebook and more than 100,000 on Twitter, it’s one of the highest-profile brands on the web. But since Skittles’ last posts on July 13th, 2013 the prolific rainbow-colored candies have retreated into their hard shell, becoming suddenly and eerily Tweet-free and utterly silent on Facebook. That day, of course, was the same that George Zimmerman was acquitted in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, who was carrying only a bag of Skittles and a bottle of iced tea at the time of his killing.

Surely, one factor in Skittles grip on market dominance — they are single most popular candy on the market with teens and younger children — is the company’s tireless social-media strategy: never taking a day off from posting at least one or two clever witticisms. Not on Christmas, not on New Year’s Eve, not ever. (A Tweet from @Skittles on May 10th: “Do pole vaulters keep their equipment in a pole vault?”)

“They’ve made an assessment that anything they say could be taken out of context…and be blown up in the news,” said Michael Sitrick, a nationally renowned crisis PR specialist whose Sitrick & Co. has represented beleaguered clients as diverse as singer Chris Brown and insurance giant AIG.

“I agree with them: We haven’t heard if other charges might be brought or other lawsuits filed [against Zimmerman]. The risk/benefit analysis is: ‘Is the benefit worth the risk?’ and given how sensitive it is, it’s not. No one can criticize something [Mars] didn’t say,” Sitrick explains, adding, “That [Skittles] have become a symbol for protesters and activists is all the more reason they should stay quiet, at least for the next two or three weeks. Right now, the wound is too fresh and new.”

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