Please stop leveraging celebrity deaths for your personal gain


We lost a lot of great people over the last twelve months. David Bowie, Prince, George Michael, and Carrie Fisher are just a few of the entertainers who died in 2016, and there are many around the world still mourning their passing.

Social media allows us to grieve as a global community. The first place anyone learned of any celebrity passing this year was most likely Facebook or Twitter, and if you commented at all about any one death you probably did so on those platforms as well. It’s good to share. It’s good to come together to celebrate life.

As a person or group with a little a following of any size you have probably felt compelled to say something in about a celebrity death. You may have even shared a photo or video featuring the departed’s best work. This is healthy and perfectly fine, but it is very easy to react in a way that may lead some to believe you are trying to personally benefit from the loss of another human.

To illustrate this point I found two recent examples of artists exchanging genuine sentiment with a shameless attempt at easy promotion.

First up, Smash Mouth. The pop-rock icons behind “All-Star” and “Walking On The Sun” have made a bad habit of sharing branded photos alongside tweets referencing celebrity death. Take a look at this:


The intent here is fine. Smash Mouth are likely fans of Star Wars, but they had nothing do with the film and certainly are not the people responsible for this photo of Carrie Fisher in her Princess Leia costume, so why slap that wavy logo on the image in this tweet? What does branding have to do with sharing genuine emotion?

This isn’t the first time Smash Mouth have attempted this, either. The band also posted and later deleted a similar tweet about the passing of George Michael:


The second example is one of many that can be found in any corner of the internet where custom merchandise is sold. Take a look at the latest shirt design from a band on Imminence Records, which is currently being promoted on Facebook:


The idea of taking something from pop culture and making it work for your brand is nothing new, but there is something particularly displeasing about seeing it done in the wake of someone’s death. No one from Ms. Fisher’s family will receive any money from this design, nor will the money go to one of the many causes Fisher fought for during her life.*

The goal here is to lure consumers into celebrating one person’s life by promoting another person/group altogether. It’s not illegal, but it is morally questionable and painfully transparent.

The moment you begin to consider the death of another person as an opportunity to promote yourself you have veered away from genuine empathy and strolled into marketing trickery as old as time. If you feel something, say something, but not every feeling you have needs to come with a reminder to buy and support whatever it is you do.

*UPDATE: After this story was posted a spokesperson for Imminence Records confirmed that proceeds from the sale of their Carrie Fisher shirt will be going to support mental health organizations.

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company's podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.