A brand has elbowed its way into the conversation about a tragic murder. And nobody seems to mind. What am I missing?

Tim BurrowesIs the murder of schoolteacher Stephanie Scott an acceptable topic for a brand to use to drive Facebook engagement? Mortein’s apparently successful decision to do so puzzles Mumbrella’s Tim Burrowes.

Sometimes you think you know how something’s going to unfold on social media, and you turn out to be completely wrong.

It happened today when fly spray Mortein insert itself into the conversation about the murder of bride-to-be Stephanie Scott.

The Facebook page for Mortein’s Louie The Fly posted a specially drawn cartoon.

It was a take on the emerging #putoutyourdress hashtag which saw dozens of people post images of their wedding dresses hanging outside their homes. This had in turn been inspired by the #putoutyourbat hashtag after the death of cricketer Phil Hughes. The Sunday Telegraph reported on the phenomenon today.

So using the #putoutyourdress hashtag, Mortein’s social media team posted an image of Louie the fly, with a purple vest hanging behind him. The message read: “Even a nasty bug like me can sense it’s been a sad week for our great country. I’m putting my vest out to support ‪#‎putyourdressout‬. Enjoy this Sunday with your family. It’s precious.”

louie fly stephanie scott

It felt to me like a hamfistedly cynical ploy by a British-based multinational corporation to hijack the social media conversation.

I expected that the public would feel similarly and took a look at the comments underneath the Facebook post. You usually know within minutes if something has caused offence.

I was completely wrong.

As I write, the post has been shared nearly 100 times and has more than 600 likes.

Yet I can spot only a couple of critical comments. As Tom Kearney put it: “It’s a cigarette smoking fly for a bug spray brand leveraging a grassroots social media movement for a murdered woman for social relevance, a marketing opportunity and cheap likes.”

louie fly stephanie comments

But most commenters simply welcomed Louie’s support.

Which suggests that the social media team behind Mortein understands their audience better than I do.

It’s tempting to explain this away with the elitist assumption that people are idiots and think that Louie is a real character, rather than driven by a bunch of social media strategists.

richie benaud louie flyThis isn’t a one off on jumping into sad news stories, by the way. On Friday, Louie The Fly was mourning Richie Benaud, leading to nearly 5000 likes and nearly 500 shares.

Of course, a backlash may yet follow. These early commenters and sharers on the post are already followers of Louie The Fly on Facebook. They may be more open to such material than the wider public. But as I write, there has been no backlash.

And I wonder if the reality is slightly more complicated. Can a brand earn the right to join in any conversation, no matter how tragic?

Has the engagement on Facebook from Mortein over recent years created an environment in which the Louie The Fly character can legitimately comment on almost any Australian issue?

If so, then the lesson here is a big one.

It suggests that if a brand consistently creates topical content then it can go further than other brands. Which is something that Mortein has been doing for some time now. The formula is fairly straightforward – a cheerful message which also sums up the topical story, and a cartoon of Louie. The shares follow…


Screen shot 2015-04-12 at 5.42.14 PM


April Fools Day…

louie fly april fool


Australia winning the Cricket World Cup:

cricket world cup ouie fly


The Jeremy Clarkson and One Direction sagas:

Louie fly top gear one direction


Even the launch of Netflix:

louie fly netflix


St Patrick’s Day:

louie fly st patrick


The launch of the Apple Watch:

louie apple watch


Mardi Gras:

mardi gras louie fly

So does this mean they’ve earned the right?

Well at more than half a century old, Louie may be Australia’s oldest brand mascot. Consistent investment in being part of national culture does count for something.

And when it comes to Louie The Fly, I’m not the one to ask. Four years ago, they pretended to kill off Louie. I felt it was massively cynical as it was an obvious stunt. I predicted the public would see through it.

I was wrong. They didn’t. It was hugely successful.

So will Louie get away with it this time?

I think so, but still it’s not a risk I’d take.

Tim Burrowes is content director of Mumbrella

April 13 update: In a classic case of The Observer Effect, it appears that this article has led Mortein to remove the post from Facebook.


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