business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kate McMahon

In a down-and-dirty presidential election season like no other, even two innocent candy makers are being dragged into distasteful debate.

Or as one Twitter user wrote: “Tic Tac headquarters def(initely) getting a sympathy card from Skittles tomorrow.”

To recap ... Skittles made news last month when Donald Trump Jr. tweeted a meme comparing Syrian refugees to poisonous Skittles in a bowl of the colorful candies. And then Tic Tac rocketed to the top of the trending charts over the weekend when the now infamous Donald Trump "Access Hollywood" video was released.

Both stories sparked an intense backlash on social media, and plenty of material for late night hosts and comedians.

"Saturday Night Live" immediately spoofed the 2005 Trump tape, a lewd conversation in which the GOP presidential nominee said he needed some Tic Tacs “just in case” he started kissing an unsuspecting soap opera actress.

“Now if you’re a woman and hear Tic Tacs shaking in someone’s pocket, it’s like hearing the Jaws theme,” said SNL’s Colin Jost, and the jokes continued.

Beyond the tweets and politics, for the purposes of MNB I think the more relevant and notable issue is how the two brands reacted to the unwanted publicity.

Tic Tac USA, which is owned by the Italian confection giant Ferrero, responded the day after the story broke with this statement: “Tic Tac respects all women. We find the recent statements and behavior completely inappropriate and unacceptable.”

The timing and wording was comparable to the terse statement issued by Skittles, which is part of Mars-owned Wrigley: “Skittles are candy. Refugees are people. We don’t feel it’s an appropriate analogy. We will respectfully refrain from further commentary as anything we say could be misinterpreted as marketing.”

Both Skittles and Tic Tac released the statements on their corporate Twitter accounts, @MarsGlobal and @Tic Tac USA, and they do not appear on either candy maker’s Facebook pages.

While corporate image consultants continue to debate how Skittles and Tic Tac should handle the controversy, I think the answer is clear. A timely, succinct statement disassociating the brand from such statements is mandatory. This isn’t about tax reform or Supreme Court vacancies, but rather a humanitarian refugee crisis and the misogynistic objectification of women. To say nothing is simply not acceptable.

Skittles has had experience navigating turbulent waters. In 2012, the candy was inextricably linked to the shooting death of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin, and became an emblem of the racial protests that followed. The company offered condolences and then said it felt it “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."

Again, I think that was the appropriate response in this case, and set a wise
precedent for the refugee comment.

Given the salacious nature of the Trump tape, it’s likely Tic Tac jokes will continue to play out on social media through November 8th and beyond. Particularly when its classic slogan was “Put a Tic Tac in your mouth and get a bang out of life.”

Comments? As always, send them to me at .
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