Skittles Frenzy After Teen’s Slaying Puts Company in Tight Spot

Thursday, 29 Mar 2012 11:08 AM

By Marti Lotman

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Trayvon Martin’s slaying not only has sparked a racial tinderbox nationwide but also has put the Wrigley company that makes Skittles in a delicate position.

Skittles sales have soared since a neighborhood watch captain shot the 17-year-old to death as he was walking through a Sanford, Fla., condo complex after buying a pack of Skittles and a bottle of iced tea at a nearby store.

Some are using the rainbow-colored candy, with its slogan “taste the rainbow,” as a rallying cry against racial injustice following Martin’s death, reports The New York Times.

The sugary circles have been used for makeshift memorials and stuffed into the pockets of thousands of protesters. In Atlanta, the student government at Spelman College, a historically black women’s liberal arts school, is selling the candy to raise money for Martin’s family.

Wrigley officials issued a cautious statement, saying they believe it is “inappropriate to get involved or comment further as we would never wish for our actions to be perceived as an attempt of commercial gain following this tragedy.”

Skittles spokeswoman Jennifer Jackson Luth would not comment on the recent profit spike.

However, public relations experts contend that the recent notoriety threatens to hurt the company, even as sales improve.

“You get trained if someone dies eating your product, but I don’t think anyone has been through training for something like this,” said Beth Gallant, a marketing professor at Lehigh University who worked as a brand manager for companies Nabisco, Kraft, Pfizer, and Crayola.

Meanwhile, Wrigley is handling the situation exactly as expected, said Amy Stern, vice president of Bender Hammerlign Group, a public relations company that works with several food companies.

“The fact is, this is bringing their brand name to the forefront,” she said. “It’s becoming its own social media campaign, and that’s a windfall for the company. But you have to step carefully this could backfire.”

Stephanie Child, former crisis manager for ConAgra Foods says Wrigley will take a financial hit no matter how it handles the situation. If the company donates money, detractors will say it’s not enough. On the other hand, if it speaks publicly, it will be accused of capitalizing on a tragedy, Child told the Times.

Tweeters have been vocal, with some insisting that Wrigley should donate profits to Martin’s family or organizations that would help underprivileged communities or mend the racial divide. Others have urged people to stop buying Skittles until the company takes a more proactive role and donates money.

“I think we are at a dangerous position where we can make Wrigley richer,” said Rashad Moore, 22, president of the chapel assistants at Morehouse College in Atlanta.

Weldon McWilliams, an African-American studies professor at Cheyney University of Pennsylvania, said Wrigley should invest in communities where “murder based on stereotypes is a reoccurring theme.”

Blacks shouldn’t be promoting the product if Skittles fails to do so, McWilliams told the Times.

“I completely understand the symbolism, but let’s re-examine what we’re doing,” McWilliams said. “Will Wrigley’s reinvest that rise in profit that they see? I’m highly skeptical of that.”

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