Seeking Attention Ahead of the Super Bowl Could Create a Salty Reputational Storm for this Iconic Brand
1/24/2020 – – Kraft Heinz gave us the sad news in a press release on Wednesday: “Mr. Peanut Passes Away at 104 Years Old.” The iconic marketing mascot’s funeral will be featured in a Planters TV commercial debuting Sunday, February 2, during the third quarter of the Super Bowl.
Retiring outdated cartoonish brand representatives is nothing new. It’s understandable that Speedy Alka-Seltzer, the Frito Bandito, the Pillsbury Doughboy and Mr. Clean would be getting less airtime in a world concerned about the overuse of drugs, stereotyping immigrants, the health risks of chubbiness, and the threat to housewives of bald muscular men prone to home invasion.
What is new, however, is having one of these beloved characters die on camera.
A pre-Super-Bowl ad released online this week shows Mr. Peanut falling to his death after the NUTmobile he’s driving with B-actor passengers Wesley Snipes and Matt Walsh swerves off a mountain road. All three, thrown from the vehicle, grab onto a tree limb growing out of the side of the cliff. It’s strong enough for only two. Snipes and Walsh are spared when Mr. Peanut voluntarily lets go, apparently ending his life as the NUTmobile explodes below them. (I say “apparently” because we never see the heroic mascot’s lifeless body, or I should say shell.)
What’s going on here?
It’s clear why Planters would want attention for its snacks ahead of the Super Bowl. My bet is that a good percentage of the annual consumption of peanuts, crackers and chips is consumed in just a few hours on Super Bowl Sunday. And I wouldn’t be surprised if Planters’ market research had found that Mr. Peanut’s elitist top hat, monocle, white gloves and cane were not resonating with millennials.
That all makes sense. But should the folks at Kraft Heinz — who now have everyone’s attention — be in crisis preparedness mode on Super Bowl Sunday?
A lot depends on what the public learns during the televised funeral in the third quarter. Is Mr. Peanut really dead? Did he have offspring who (without top hats, monocles, white gloves and canes) can carry on his mascot duties in a more modern mode? Does this intense mini-campaign have a happy, meaningful ending? Or does the audience come away resenting the dark humor and disrespect shown to a universally recognized character they grew up with? Outdated or not, consumers see Mr. Peanut as a symbol of trust and quality. I don’t know about you, but if I see a bartender filling up a bowl with peanuts from a container adorned with Mr. Peanut’s image, I know I’m being offered the best available product. In a word, Mr. Peanut comforts me.
I’m betting that Planters understands the immeasurable value of its brand equity and has a terrific plot twist (and design update) in store for us. Any other outcome would be . . . nuts.