Mourning on Social: Was “Genie, you’re free” bad for the brand?

Written by Jen Chae, Digital Marketing Intern, Social@Ogilvy HK


The social sphere had an emotional outpouring with the passing of Robin Williams. Among these, the Academy’s “Genie, you’re free” tweet caught the most attention, but is all attention good attention?

The facts:

  • It was retweeted 331,000 times
  • Estimated to have reached 70 million people – the most activity the Academy has seen since the Oscars selfie.
  • Raised questions of morality on a very serious topic


Perfect Farewell?

Evan Rachel Wood tweeted a very similar copy-visual ensemble an hour before the Academy did, but her tweet didn’t go viral.

Disney also posted a farewell but the tweet didn’t receive much engagement, despite the account having five times the amount of the Academy’s followers.


Why and how did the Academy’s tweet prevail?

The Academy had both the appropriate audience and content, alongside these contributing factors:

  •  Academy’s brand power: 806K followers on Twitter
  • Nature of followers: entertainment enthusiasts, including celebrities (who have millions of followers themselves)
  • Disney’s brand power: Aladdin is an iconic favourite
  • Catchy copy: pithy, rhymes
  • Emotional connection
  • Timeliness

Copy definitely played a huge part in setting it apart because it was short and sweet. But the same brevity and ambiguity that made it so catchy also got the Academy negative responses.

Suicide-prevention groups and media outlets attacked the “Genie, you’re free” copy for misrepresenting the idea of suicide. One British publication called the tweet “dangerously irresponsible,” reporting it was borderline “honouring the suicidal behaviour, rather than mourning a death.” Another chimed in, stating that the tweet “violates well-established public health standards for how we talk about suicide.”


How did The Academy respond?

Despite the criticism, “Genie, you’re free” is still published on the Academy’s Twitter page. The Academy did not make a public statement or an apology. The Academy’s account still stands with just as many Twitter followers and back-to-normal activity.

It seems, to the Academy, that the Genie post was a one-hit wonder that reinforced the Academy’s online presence through publicity. The true impact of that publicity is more difficult to evaluate.


What can we learn?

From a marketer’s perspective, the post was arguably not detrimental. It was beloved by many, passable to critics and thought-provoking to the rest. It created social chatter on a bigger scale.

Was the post irresponsible? The answer to that is subjective and difficult to prove. Always evaluate your content carefully, and consider the interpretation from many different perspectives. Controversy is not always a problem.