Crisis Management: When Is It Appropriate to Use a Celebrity’s Death For More Twitter Followers?
David Bowie calls to mind avant-garde, boundary-pushing, and stereotype-shattering. Crocs… does not.
On social media, when is the appropriate time for a company co-opt a celebrity’s death for more followers? For Crocs, that time is never. Particularly when the celebrity seems such an odd fit for the brand: David Bowie is the anti-Crocs.
On January 11, Crocs tweeted a message suggesting its shoes were inspired by David Bowie. Did the tweet go as planned?
Crocs, Fashion Icon?
Crocs has a reputation for offering incredibly uncool, but very practical shoes (clogs? sandals?). Crocs are known as suburbia’s favourite footwear. In no way, shape, or form does Crocs appear to take inspiration from music/fashion icon David Bowie.
Before the Bowie tweet, @Crocs on Twitter enjoyed an average of 40 new followers per day and 33.1 retweets, replies, or favourites per tweet. The visualization below shows low engagement overall, with a few successful tweets over the summer. The spike in June was spurred by the brand’s tweet about its waterslide fashion show, poking fun at its kid-friendly style and its distance from the fashion world.
In December 2015 and early January 2016, @Crocs focused on getting their shoes under the tree and drumming up interest in new iterations: high heel Crocs, winter boot Crocs, suede Crocs. Crocs has tried to rebrand itself as stylish for its 57,000+ followers.
It was even featured in a student’s art project back in December, which @Crocs happily retweeted.
The embattled clog conglomerate was making inroads in the worlds of art and fashion, so why not go one step further and reach out to an avante-garde legend?
David Bowie passed away on January 10, 2016. About 5 hours before Crocs posted its fatal tweet on January 11, Madonna shared her grief with her Twitter followers and included a hashtag for her latest album.
The series of tweets immediately drew hostile responses. Madonna, herself a boundary-pushing artist, angered Bowie fans.
Though most comments were focused on Bowie, some followers complained that Madonna was using his death to promote her album. Including the hashtag, critics said, was opportunistic.
This might have acted as a warning to brands contemplating tweeting about Bowie’s death and their products at the same time, but @Crocs doesn’t follow Madonna.
They’ve Made a Huge Mistake
At 10:43 AM on the day after David Bowie died, @Crocs tweeted the following:
The David Bowie tribute, even if it were well-intentioned, did not come across that way. It was @Crocs’ most retweeted tweet in January, but for all the wrong reasons. The “tribute” was perceived as insincere because it included a shot of the brand’s products, and seemed to imply that Bowie inspired Crocs.
Bowie fans were horrified: Bowie would not live on forever as a plastic clog. Crocs, fans ranted on Twitter, are not the artist’s legacy.
@Crocs was inundated with angry comments and mentions from articles about the bad tweet. They deleted the offending tweet within 30 minutes.
Crocs was punished more severely than Madonna for its misstep: Macleans, The Wrap, Mashable, and others blasted the brand. Alex Shepphard began his write-up for New Republic as follows: “Crocs are bad shoes and this is a bad tweet.”
The Bowie tweet caused a temporary spike in engagement for @Crocs: the press around the tweet was quite possibly the most press the account has ever gotten. As shown below, the percentage of its followers who engaged increased on January 11. Could the mistake actually give the brand a boost on Twitter?
@Crocs’ average of 33.1 engagements per tweet for the first week of January soared to 100.3 engagements from January 11 to 14. For those four days, @Crocs attracted 804 engagements total, almost beat its high season average for December.
After a quiet period over the Christmas holidays, the Bowie tweet pushed @Crocs mentions higher than they had been all year. Almost no one mentioned @Crocs before the January 11th tweet.
Above, mentions for @Crocs on Twitter from January 2015 to 2016. On January 11, Crocs received 335 mentions: its highest number of mentions in one day as far back as winter 2013. Good news?
As shown in the keyword analysis below, many of the mentions were likely about the Bowie misfire: bad news for the brand.
As with Starbucks’ #RaceTogether, Crocs’ Bowie tweet made Twitter users want to distance themselves from the brand. If following Crocs wasn’t uncool before, after the Bowie tweet, it could be considered offensive.
Follower growth has come to a standstill: since January 11, @Crocs has gained 0 followers. Engagement has also stalled. @Crocs garnered an average of 28.1 retweets, likes, or replies per tweet in the first week of January, but its first tweet since January 11 only attracted 21 engagements.
The Bowie tweet landed in the middle of @Crocs’ new #FindYourFun Twitter campaign and rebranding project. According to its Twitter page, Crocs is now aiming to make the world “a little bolder, a little more colorful, a little more different.” Tweeting a product picture along with a bold, colourful, and different artist like David Bowie may have seemed like a shoe-in for success. But rather than attracting new followers, since January 11 @Crocs’ growth has gone flat.
A tribute appears exploitive when it features a company’s product, like Madonna’s tour hashtag. Vera Wang, Marc Jacobs, and Heathrow — similarly massive — also shared posts about Bowie’s death without any blowback. The difference? They didn’t reference their products in their tweets at all and featured only photos of Bowie (no clothes or planes superimposed).
Rather than emphasizing how inspired and Bowie-like Crocs are, the Bowie tweet had the opposite effect for the shoe company: it showcased the vast chasm between Crocs and everything the music legend stood for. One of the most shared articles about the mistake, from the site Death and Taxes, described Crocs as “the shoe people wear when they’ve lost the will to live.”
So, when should brands use a celebrity’s death to get more followers? Never. The answer is never. Especially when that celebrity is David Bowie, and the brand is perceived as his polar, plastic opposite. Crocs has never seemed farther away from the cutting edge of fashion, where David Bowie was usually found.