Unusual Suspects: Skittles, Arizona Iced Tea and the Death of Trayvon Martin…

The recent killing of American youth Trayvon Martin has been a flashpoint in race relations across the United States. Briefly: Trayvon (a black guy) was shot and killed in an allegedly unprovoked attack by George Zimmerman (a white guy). If you want more details, you can Google but what’s really surreal is the sudden wave of negative publicity that’s assailing the Skittles and Arizona Iced Tea brands. Yeah, that looks a little unrelated doesn’t it?

Anyway, here’s the catch-up: when Trayvon’s body was inspected, he was found to be carrying nothing more than a packet of Skittles and a bottle of Arizona Iced Tea.

The news spread like wildfire and the community rallied around these brands as key talking points, illustrating the ludicrousness of Zimmerman’s claim that he had acted in self-defence. As these things are wont to do, it took a life of its own, with protestors using the brands as visuals in their actions. For example:

Lets have an #AUCHoodieMarch for Trayvon Martin. We all wear hoodies and pass out skittles and bottles of tea. Anyone interested? (@LaurenRichelle1).


And of course, there’s the Facebook presence too…

Now both Skittles and Arizona Iced Tea have been accused of profiting from this unfortunate incident. Apparently, all these mentions add up to free advertising, earned media if you will, and there are people who aren’t happy about that.

That is disingenuous at best. Nowhere in any form do Skittles or Arizona Iced Tea associate themselves publicly with Trayvon or the incident – other than in sympathy with his loved ones. There are no official Skittle or Arizona Iced Tea sales campaigns on behalf of Trayvon. What has happened is that people have latched onto these brands as symbols of Trayvon’s innocence. Again, this is not a corporate campaign. No-one in a boardroom said, “Sales are down. Let’s have some white guy shoot some black guy in self-defence but wait…here’s the kicker. When they search the dead black kid, guess what? No weapons. Just Skittles. Genius, right!?” This kind of thinking makes no sense. It’s like saying Ford should cough up for all those extra mentions all those years ago when OJ SImpson made a run for it in his Ford Bronco. 

Grow up America. Don’t let this become an issue because if it does, all you’re doing is trivialising the loss of a human life and losing sight of the fact that there are problems that desperately need solving within your communities. Fix that first.

And to Skittles and Arizona Iced Tea, you guys need to move faster to solidify your position in this matter. Stand up, decry the incident loudly and be vocal about the accusations that you guys are actively working to profit from this tragedy. And pray that calm heads prevail.