Trayvon Martin Is Dead … But What’s Up With Skittles?

College student Jajuan Kelley covers his mouth with a Skittles wrapper as he stands in a crowd of thousands rallying at the Georgia State Capitol in memory of slain Florida teenager Trayvon Martin on March 26, 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia.
Photo: Jessica McGowan/Getty Images

The news surrounding the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin veers into absurdism, black comedy, and borderline offensive market-watching today as the New York Times declares, “Skittles are the candy of the moment.” Martin, shot while unarmed by a neighborhood watchman, was carrying just the bag of sweets and an iced tea when he was killed, and the candy has been present at rallies and memorials across the country since as, what the Times calls, “a symbol of racial injustice that underscores Trayvon’s youth and the circumstances surrounding his death.” It doesn’t stop there, unfortunately: “Skittles’ new level of fame has quickly become a kind of marketing crisis that is threatening to hurt the company even as sales improve.”

Granted, the collateral cultural and business implications of a story as large as Martin’s death are grimly fascinating, but they’re almost impossible to write about without seeming glib. The company, for their part, did well to say it feels “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.”

But leave it to the Times to find experts more than willing to sound off insensitively with capitalistic/existential gems like, “There is this moment where as a brand manager you think, ‘Oh my God, this is bigger than we are.’” Deep. “When cooler heads prevail,” she added, “people will recognize that this was a candy that was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

There is an interesting discussion in the article about the tough spot the company finds itself in: “If it donates money, people will criticize it for being not enough. If it speaks publicly, people will say they are capitalizing on it.” But then there are cringe-worthy lines like this: “With its air of innocence and its slogan — ‘Taste the rainbow’ — Skittles seemed a perfect symbol to help define the story, but it now is at risk of turning into something else.” In this case, even attempts to be grave just sound ridiculous.

Trayvon Martin Is Dead … What’s Up With Skittles?