Planters took to Twitter on Wednesday, Jan. 22 to announce that their longtime mascot Mr. Peanut had passed away. It was revealed in their recent pregame Super Bowl commercial that the 104-year-old peanut sacrificed his life to save his friends when their car swerved into a canyon and left them hanging from a branch that could not support all of them. His death is part of a larger pattern of companies using outlets like Twitter to build relatable stories and personalities for their brands. While this stunt left many wondering what was the purpose of killing off the icon, the buzz that Mr. Peanut’s death has cultivated proves the effectiveness of seemingly outrageous marketing schemes like these.
When it comes to shopping, 95% of decision-making takes place in the subconscious mind and people have an intricate mental network of associations with any given brand. To win over buyers, businesses have to add more positive associations to their brand. As a result, Twitter has become overrun with big brands that tweet like ordinary people. This phenomenon is otherwise known as brand Twitter. From Wendy’s poking fun at McDonald’s frozen beef to SunnyD tweeting about depression, this unique marketing technique has garnered millions of retweets and has even inspired articles talking about which brand has the best tweets. By humanizing their social media, brands have been able to gather a loyal fanbase based solely on their interactions with their customers.
Previously, Planters struggled with establishing this connection with its consumers. Over the years, Mr. Peanut’s public image has faced ups and downs. In 2013, a tweet went viral that read, “Is there anything more capitalist than a peanut with a top hat, cane and monocle selling you other peanuts to eat?” This was the beginning of the public scrutinizing the business practices and assets of Mr. Peanut, viewing him as a cruel capitalist rather than a relatable character.
Mr. Peanut’s death this past month was the perfect opportunity for Planters to reconstruct the image of their mascot. The killing and revival of beloved characters is not a new concept in popular culture. From Jon Snow in “Game of Thrones,” to almost every comic book superhero, this trope is a common method used to tug at the general population’s heartstrings. By portraying Mr. Peanut selflessly giving up his life to save his friends, Planters was able to shift his image from cruel to caring.
Not only did Planters turn Mr. Peanut into a hero, they utilized another trend to benefit their brand: the general public’s love for babies. On Feb. 2, the company released their second Super Bowl commercial that shows the proceedings of Mr. Peanut’s funeral. As tears slide down Kool-Aid Man’s face and hit the grave of Mr. Peanut, a sprout begins to grow and reveals that Mr. Peanut has been reborn into the form of Baby Nut.
From Baby Shark to “I’m baby” memes, there has been an increased interest in baby versions of almost everything. One example of this obsession is Disney Plus’ “The Mandalorian,” and its character that fans have dubbed “Baby Yoda.” Disney Plus was able to garner 28.6 million subscribers since its release — a feat that Disney CEO Bob Iger largely contributes to “The Mandalorian,” that became a cultural phenomenon thanks to Baby Yoda. The popularity of Baby Yoda continues off-screen with Baby Yoda becoming the highest selling Pop! Funko figure before even hitting the shelves in stores.
Bringing Mr. Peanut back in the form of a baby is a clever marketing ploy by Planters because it sufficiently softens the image of their mascot from evil capitalist to helpless baby that the public can’t help but coo at its cuteness. Planters is well aware of how popular baby versions of characters can be and has already created a full merchandise store for the newly born Baby Nut to earn even more money from customers.
By utilizing these techniques, the public’s attention and sympathies have successfully been captured. In the hours following the announcement of Mr. Peanut’s passing #RIPeanut was trending on Twitter and even received a shoutout in Saturday Night Live’s weekend update segment. Over the course of the past three weeks, Mr. Peanut’s death ad has accumulated over 7.3 million views on YouTube. The brand has also received an influx of calls and messages from people who were saddened by the death of Mr. Peanut.
Through this campaign, Planters has been able to drop the criticisms surrounding Mr. Peanut and revitalize their brand with Baby Nut. They found an effective, positive way to capture consumers’ attention with a memorable story and adorable new mascot. While it is too early to tell if sales have increased, it is more likely than ever that the next time someone goes grocery shopping they will have the story of a heroic peanut in the back of their mind, urging them to buy a container of peanuts.