When is it okay to profit off someone’s misfortune or even death?


As a marketer or even any business trying to build a reputation online, we MUST be relevant. That means that what we're posting or building has to relate to our audience in whatever ways are important to them.  In this quest to find relevance, it's not uncommon to create posts, articles or even products around topics that are currently trending online. As a matter of fact, it's almost crucial to getting seen.

But can you take that too far? Can you create things that are controversial or even inappropriate and still have them be successful? After all, any publicity is good publicity, right?

Yeah...No. If you believe that, or operate your business in that manner, I'm gonna need you to close down this browser window and never return, ok? Because you and I? We're never gonna work out.

I'm going to be exceptionally careful in how I write the rest of this post, because I am in no way intending to capitalize on the subject, but I also know that if you're smart, and have been paying any attention at all to what's trending in pop-culture the last couple of days, you're going to figure out exactly what and who I'm talking about.

There is an eating establishment in my tiny little hometown that has been around for forever. A few years ago, this place kinda made a name for itself when it became a key location in a fairly popular Netflix series. It has since turned its entire business model into catering to fans of that show, despite the fact that none of the locals here are really impressed with it for a number of reasons. (This location has been a local hangout for a LONG time, so maybe we're all just a little bitter that we can no longer just go and hang out there without having to wait in line.)

Recently, like three fucking days ago, one of the stars of that show died. And yesterday, that establishment announced that it was going to create a product in honour of the actor.

Now, full disclosure. The cause of this actor's death hit home for me. HARD. I recently had a very similar health event in my life and I am very fortunate to still be here. Perhaps it's that connection that has caused this whole thing to taste sour in my mouth. Or perhaps it's just ethically wrong. But I feel this restaurant is preying on the emotion of fans in order to increase their profits. And it pisses me off!

I'll give them the benefit of the doubt here, and perhaps they just weren't thinking about how crass their move is. Maybe they're honestly just trying to honour this man but aren't truly thinking about the timeframe and how it's coming across. But that feels like a stretch to me.

So how could they have handled this better?

The actor we're talking about died as a result of health issue that is researched and fundraised for heavily by a foundation here in Canada. Instead of offering this new product as a 100% for-profit menu item, I really feel that this restaurant should be putting some funds towards that foundation. Even if it's just a tiny little token amount, the gesture alone would go a long way to improve how sour this tastes. And if they didn't want to do that, or the process is to do is complicated, they really should have waited more than two days to announce their new menu item. How much longer? I don't know, but exactly, but certainly not in the same week as someone's passing.

What can you learn from this?

I don't like creating content that doesn't have a purpose beyond me ranting, so know that there's always a lesson or two to be learned in anything I post. 🙂

Knowing what's trending in the world today can give you some great topics to create content around. As long as you can actually tie it into your business and do so respectfully. (i.e. don't try to profit off someone's death two days after they've passed.)

Google Trends is a great way to see what's popular at any given moment.

This article from Brandwatch, though a little bit older, still has some solid tips for finding what's trending.