Ali Cozzolino-Smith

Mar 8, 2021

11 min read

Planters — The Death of Mr. Peanut

Courtesy of O’Brien Communications Group

Introduction

It is important to start with a brief origin story of the company known as Planters. A hardworking Italian immigrant, Amedeo Obici started the company with Mario Peruzzi’s help — an expert on the process of roasting nuts. The pair in 1906 opened a small shop that grew into the company the world knows today — Planters. They could not have imagined the success of their business 115 years after its establishment. Planters’ reputation of “quality and innovation” precedes them (Get to Know Planters).

A decade after its beginning, Planters hosted a contest for a brand icon. A schoolboy sketched out a shelled peanut with human-like features (Planters Through the Years). In later renditions of the mascot the iconic top hat, monocle, and cane were added to enhance its character (Planters Through the Years). This is essentially how the mascot remained for 104 years — besides updating the graphics roughly every decade. This peanut with human-like characteristics is known as Mr. Peanut.

On January 22, 2020, Planters shocked the world by killing off its mascot that had represented the company for so long. This campaign centered around the death of Mr. Peanut, a pop culture celebrity, starting as a commercial that aired a little over a week before the 2020 Super Bowl (also known as a Super Bowl pregame advertisement). In the commercial, Matt Walsh, Wesley Snipes, and Mr. Peanut are driving along in the NUTmobile when all of a sudden, they swerve to miss running into an armadillo in the center of the road. The three of them find themselves barely hanging onto an unstable branch or tree root off the side of the canyon wall. Walsh and Snipes bicker amongst themselves about who should let go to stop the branch from breaking. Mr. Peanut ultimately makes the tough decision for them and plummets to his death. For extra effect, the NUTmobile blows up, emphasizing that Mr. Peanut is truly deceased and did not somehow miraculously survive the fall (Mr. Peanut Dies in New Planters Commercial, 2020, 03:15–05:21). An announcement was even made on Twitter, as shown.

It sparked conversation amongst users on the social media app and responses from other brands paying their sympathies for Planters and respects to Mr. Peanut. The commercial received 6 million views on YouTube and 2 million views on Twitter (Wright, 2020).

The plan was to continue to ramp up Planter’s social media presence on Twitter and sponsor tweets from Matt Walsh and Wesley Snipes thanking Mr. Peanut for saving their lives. Planters wanted to engage with their audience on Twitter about the Death of a pop culture icon up until Super Bowl 2020, when a series of commercials would air, including a funeral for Mr. Peanut and the introduction of Baby Nut (Wright, 2020).

At the time, the audience could not quite understand what the goal of the advertisement was. However, as the campaign progressed, it was clear that Planters was killing off their iconic mascot to introduce Baby Nut — an adorable version of Mr. Peanut, top hat and all, in an attempt to situate themselves differently in the minds of the consumers.

Campaign

Planters utilized the upcoming Super Bowl to tell the story of “The Death of Mr. Peanut” and his rebirth as Baby Nut. Planters experienced a noticeable reaction from fans on Twitter in response to their commercial airing. Several brands tweeted at Planters about the news, which resulted in funny and witty cross-brand promotions. It became a trend for brands to send their condolences to @MrPeanut on Twitter. The following examples are of sympathy tweets from Nesquik, JTG Daugherty Racing, and Dr. Pepper.

People have an infatuation with things that are cute and adorable; before Planters introduced Baby Nut there was Baby Yoda, Baby Groot, and even Baby Grinch (Barnett, 2020). This obsession with tiny versions of things allows brands to target a specific audience — a new and younger audience — by generating buzz around the brand.

In an article, Barnett explains the different phases of the multi-step campaign. Planters used pop culture references and trends to essentially rebrand Planters to appeal to a younger generation (2020). Planters created a dramatic death scene of the main character — similar to when Game of Thrones killed off one of their beloved characters, Jon Snow — initiating massive conversation over social media, especially Twitter. They introduce a smaller and cute version of the outdated Mr. Peanut; he has been resurrected.

This is in direct comparison to what Disney did to the very wise Star Wars character Yoda. Disney created Baby Yoda to draw in an audience that appeals to the character’s cuteness, targeting an entirely new audience that had not been interested in the franchise previously. “Planters capitalized on current interests” (Barnett, 2020).

Planters stopped the Twitter campaign briefly leading up to the 2020 Super Bowl because of the unfortunate death of real-life icon Kobe Bryant in a tragic accident on January 26th, 2020 — four days after the death of the fictional Mr. Peanut. “Had they continued with their marketing, the public might have responded negatively toward the brand” (Barnett, 2020). There were some tweets from followers of the campaign that commented on the unfortunate timing.

Matt Walsh (@mrmattwalsh) promoted Planters with a sponsored tweet alongside his tweet for the unexpected and tragic loss of Kobe Bryant. The tweet for @ MrPeanut is more heartfelt.

This campaign allowed Planters to create social media content and engage their audience in a conversation that was non-existent on their platform previously. Because of the death of Mr. Peanut, Planters was able to saturate twitter with #BabyNut and #RIPeanut. They made it a trend for brands to send creative condolences to Planters and curated a story through Super Bowl ads that fans engaged during the anticipation of the next installment. Once the commercial campaign’s final scene aired, and Mr. Peanut was reborn as Baby Nut (symbolizing the company’s rebirth and focus on the younger generation), Twitter lit up with more engagement from Baby Nut.

Planters have been attempting to reach a younger audience for quite some time. During the 2019 Super Bowl, Planters released an outrageous commercial intended to boost social media engagement — mainly Twitter — to appeal to the younger audience. Engagement sparked but did not hold steady (Planter’s Social Media Brings Mr. Peanut to New Audience, 2019). It was just a commercial and was not paired with a corresponding social media campaign. Unfortunately, this 2019 Super Bowl commercial did not spur interest in the intended audience — Planters saw an 11.7% lower percentage of millennials than the usual audience (Planter’s Social Media Brings Mr. Peanut to New Audience, 2019). 88% of the engagement and interactions during the 2019 Super Bowl was likely with the 55 and older audience already following the Planters’ @MrPeanut Twitter account. By using pop culture references and affinity for cute versions of things, Planters was able to reach their intended audience on Social Media — it helped that Planters also released campaign merchandise.

Reach and engagement

Planters (@MrPeanut) on Twitter has 137.3K followers and are only following 185 profiles. They have tweeted 17.7K times since joining Twitter in December 2010. Planters has not experienced high engagement in the past. Looking at some of their previous tweets, it is apparent that they have struggled with engagement. For example, some tweets received less than five comments or retweets in the year 2020. Twitter is a fast-paced and rapid social media. The tweets were not reaching the intended audience (millennials), and the overall effort was low.

Planters made a teaser tweet that Mr. Peanut and Matt Walsh would be road trip to Miami for the 2020 Super Bowl.

The tweet made on January 14th was the first of the campaign and alluded to Mr. Peanuts’ upcoming death later within the week. January 22nd was the first official tweet to jumpstart the campaign — announcing Mr. Peanuts’ death. Planters did not tweet between January 17th and January 22nd. The above graph (Planters Twitter Engagement before Campaign) shows the sum of comments, retweets, and likes of posts — Planters made between one to three tweets each of these days. The graph below (Planters Twitter Engagement during Campaign) is of Planters’ Twitter engagement from their announcement and confirmation post alone. Engagement from the cross-brand promotions or posts that Planters retweeted is not shown. This is solely engagement on tweets from Planters on January 22nd (@MrPeanut).

Results

Airing this campaign as a pregame to the 2020 Super Bowl and following up with the story’s conclusion and introducing Baby Nut was a great way to build suspense and spotlight a brand with trouble connecting with younger audiences. They received a lot of attention on Twitter, which was difficult for them to garner since they joined the platform in 2010. Other brands or brand mascots sending their condolences to Planter (@MrPeanut) on Twitter was a great way to promote Planters products and other products by association because there was such a large buzz.

What went wrong?

There was an issue of timing for Planters, and this bad timing resulted in a lot of criticism for the campaign and the brand (Vinjamuri, 2020). While the campaign was shocking, and there was a lot of engagement online and many people vocally questioning why a brand would kill off the face of the company — Mr. Peanut, it was unfortunately also around the time that Kobe Bryant, a famous Basketball player, passed away in a terrible helicopter crash with his eldest daughter. It seemed insensitive that a campaign about a fictional character’s death was still going on while there were heartfelt tweets about losing a great athlete and influential person in such a tragic way (Wright, 2020).

I also think it was a missed opportunity for Planters not to change their packaging or rebrand their products with Baby Nut on canisters of nuts or other products. The campaign was concise, and if it had not been aired alongside the tragic death of Kobe Bryant, Planters could have possibly planned for this.

Discussion

While there were unforeseen circumstances that led to the campaign overall not being as successful as projected, I do think that the brand was able to reach its target audience over social media, unlike during the previous 2019 Super Bowl campaign that was just meant to generate engagement and notoriety by Twitter users tweeting using a specific hashtag. Mr. Peanuts’ death and resurrection as Baby Nut was symbolic. It symbolized a company’s desire and commitment to change and be reborn. Resurrection for Planters means engaging more on Twitter and become more than just a legacy brand. Forbes disagreed with me but blamed the unsuccessfulness on the timing and riskiness of pulling off a resurrection plotline (Vinjamuri, 2020). It was a Super Bowl ad, and those are known for being unconventional and quite silly.

Conclusion

To conclude, I learned that timing is absolutely everything. Bad timing, the death of Kobe Bryant, created a lot of controversy for a campaign that had a lot of reactions on Twitter. Bad timing caused the movement to underperform after the resurrection of Baby Nut. Following pop culture and introducing Mr. Peanut as Baby Nut was a great way to appeal to the obsession with cute things. However, it begs the question if death and resurrection plots are overused, as Forbes suggested.

I have never seen cross-promotion between brands before this campaign. I found it very interesting. At the time, I thought it was very entertaining to follow along as brands tweeted at @MrPeanut and sent their condolences in fun and creative ways, often combining both brands.

Again, I think Planters could have done more, such as rebranding products with Baby Nut’s images instead of Mr. Peanut. They did release merchandise (hats, sweatshirts, plush toys, etc.), and there was a lot of recognition on social media. Bringing Baby Nut to the shelves of grocery stores would have taken their commercial and plot line a step further.

Planters decided to refrain from making a commercial to air during the 2021 Super Bowl due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It will be interesting to see what weird and wacky advertisement they come up with next year to top #BabyNut.

Resources

Barnett, S. (2020, February 6). What Baby Nut can teach you about Marketing. Ray Rico Freelance. https://rayricofreelance.com/what-baby-nut-can-teach-you-about-marketing/

Dr. Pepper [@drpepper]. (2020, January 23). Goodbye, Mr. Peanut. Very few people understand how delicious our relationship has been: https://bzfd.it/38B7ZLM #RIPeanut [Tweet]. Twitter. https://twitter.com/drpepper/status/1220511872379650049?s=20

JTG Daugherty Racing [JTGRacing]. (2020, January 22). To one of our biggest fans. We’ll miss you, @MrPeanut. #RIPeanut [Tweet]. Twitter. https://twitter.com/drpepper/status/1220511872379650049?s=20

Mr. Peanut dies in new Planters commercial. (2020, January 23). [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PsCI_gOG_ks

Nesquik. (2020, January 22). RIP to a real one 🙏 #RIPeanut [Tweet]. Twitter. https://twitter.com/Nesquik/status/1220056722301247490?s=20

Planters [@MrPeanut]. (2020a, January 14). Next week, @mrmattwalsh and I are going on a road trip to the Big Game in Miami! We’re just dying [Tweet]. Twitter. https://twitter.com/mrpeanut/status/1217129290384465922?s=21

Planters [@MrPeanut]. (2020b, January 22). It is with heavy hearts that we confirm that Mr. Peanut has died at 104. In the ultimate selfless act, [Tweet]. Twitter. https://twitter.com/mrpeanut/status/1220013408180895745?s=21

Planters [@MrPeanut]. (2020c, February 2). Hello world, I’m happy to be back! I can’t believe everyone came together for little old me! #BabyNut [Tweet]. Twitter. https://twitter.com/mrpeanut/status/1224132938318667777?s=21

Planter’s Social Media Brings Mr. Peanut to New Audience. (2019, February 16). Medium. https://medium.com/@zoomph.inc/planters-social-media-brings-mr-peanut-to-new-audience-e6d0bb00f42e

Planters Through the Years. (n.d.). Planters. Retrieved February 24, 2021, from https://www.planters.com/mr-peanut/planters-through-the-years

Tani, M. [maxwelltani]. (2020, January 26). It’s weird when you’re on Twitter reading a tragic story about an actual death and you’ve got to scroll past [Tweet]. Twitter. https://twitter.com/maxwelltani/status/1221520421507551233?s=20

Vinjamuri, D. (2020, January 30). Killing Mr. Peanut Was Never A Good Idea. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidvinjamuri/2020/01/29/killing-mr-peanut-was-never-a-good-idea/?sh=7f7ae8685d26

Walsh, M. [@mrmattwalsh]. (2020a, January 23). The world mourns the loss of a great nut and I mourn the loss of my bestest friend. You gave [Tweet]. Twitter. https://twitter.com/mrmattwalsh?lang=en

Walsh, M. [@mrmattwalsh]. (2020b, January 26). So sad to hear about Kobe Bryant’s death. My sympathies to his family for their sudden loss [Tweet]. Twitter. https://twitter.com/mrmattwalsh/status/1221532667155365891?s=20

Wright, M. (2020, February 3). The Mr. Peanut Death Super Bowl Commercial Refuses to Die. Vulture. https://www.vulture.com/2020/02/the-mr-peanut-death-commercial-controversy-explained.html

Zhang, J. G. (2020, January 31). Mr. Peanut Is the Latest in the Tradition of Super Bowl Brand Madness. Eater. https://www.eater.com/2020/1/31/21115631/planters-mr-peanut-super-bowl-ad-canceled-after-kobe-bryant-helicopter-crash