Five steps to using a dead celebrity in your engagement strategy (hint: don't do it)

There are now three constants in life: death, taxes and brands using the former to publicly grieve, writes Richard Stagg in a sidelong look at the use of deceased celebrities for news-jacking purposes.

Pic credits: Bowie: Peter Kramer / AP/Press Association Images. Stewart: William Conran / PA Wire/Press Association Images. Lemmy: Steve Parsons / PA Wire/Press Association Images
Pic credits: Bowie: Peter Kramer / AP/Press Association Images. Stewart: William Conran / PA Wire/Press Association Images. Lemmy: Steve Parsons / PA Wire/Press Association Images

When the globe mourns the passing of a true great, it’s important that your giant faceless corporate entity is seen to gush with emotion. Possibly for SEO reasons. Here’s how to do it:

1. Don’t let the corpse go cold
Don’t be late to the funeral; the condolences need to be out in the wild before rigor mortis sets in. Make sure that your team has posts primed and ready to go the moment that news breaks. In fact, if any celeb (grades A though D) starts looking a tad peaky, get the interns to start collating stock photos.

2. Context is for suckers
Did the recently deceased have a strong, historical and personal relationship with your company? Were they a massive influence on your industry? Is their death a wake-up call for a charitable cause you’re part of?

Don’t worry about it – it’s irrelevant. No one is going to check or call you up on it. You simply must be aligned to the departed influencer. Just without paying those silly endorsement fees. Thanks to technical developments, you could now even Photoshop products into the open cask. Think of it as an on-message ancient burial chamber filled with wonderful artefacts. Artefacts your customers can buy from all good retailers.

3. Brand it, brand it, brand it
There is absolutely no point in your cries going unheard. Make sure every inspirational quote over a colourised photo you use has a watermark on it, as ordained by the Brand Bible. It’s fundamental that the words you are so shamelessly repeating as your own can be tracked and ticked off against the ROI forecast.

Throw nostalgia into the mix by broadcasting that old ad starring them when they needed to keep up public appearances. Your sentiment readings are going to be off the chart!

4. Embrace the backlash
Listen, we all know that by the time BuzzFeed or The Poke share a deleted tweet screengrab, it’s already gone viral. The illustrious V-word. People are actively starting conversations with you about it. That’s right folks: engagement. Celebrate! Crack open the prosecco and have a dance (albeit on someone’s grave).

5. Grieving covers a multitude of sins
No one can see the crocodile tears behind your black veil or social dashboard. Should your misguided attempts to capitalise on bereavement backfire, simply blame the actions on a distraught customer service rep whose devastation got the better of them. You will remain untarnished and the bad press will be six-feet deep within days.

So there you have it – and next time someone with genuine world-changing talent shuffles off this mortal coil, you can be there, doing the marketing equivalent of brandishing flowers nicked off a lamppost.

Richard Stagg is a strategist

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