By now, you may have heard of the kerfuffle around Spaghetti Os. The childhood favorite brand of canned spaghetti thought it needed to comment on the 72nd anniversary of the attacks on Pearl Harbor. Naturally, they did this in a tasteful and respectful manner:

Just don't do this


…Or not. Enough people have raked Spaghetti Os over the coals, and the company has already apologized for the gaffe. I’m not here to pile on, but this is a perfect example of when brands need to shut up. There’s an old saying: “it is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.” If Spaghetti Os had been silent, not one single person on the planet would have wondered, “gee, I wonder what Spaghetti Os thinks about Pearl Harbor?” Why? Because no one cares.

And that ultimately is why this is such a dumb move. Yes, this post is rude and disrespectful toward an event which claimed thousands of lives. That’s bad. But there is no possible way this post would have ever paid off. In no scenario does this help drive people to buy canned pasta or think more favorably toward the company. It’s content for content’s sake, probably using an image they recycled from Flag Day or the Fourth of July or some other more cheerful day.

Don’t fall into Spaghetti Os’ trap. When you go to post a piece of content, you should ask yourself these two questions:

What is the best possible outcome I could expect from this piece of marketing? 

What is the worst possible outcome I could expect from this piece of marketing? 

Draw a good ol’ fashioned T-chart. Actually, let’s run this scenario for Spaghetti-Os:

 Best Case Scenario Worst Case  Scenario
  • Commemorate important event in American history
  • Some may find the smiling character flippant on the anniversary of a bloody massacre
  • Remain visible on Twitter on a slow Saturday
  • Positive associations with patriotism
  •  May offend surviving veterans or their families
  • Raise the profile of our O mascot

At first glance, this chart might seem lopsided: there are more pros than cons! But come on, each of the “pros” are incremental increases at best, with no direct tie to sales. The piece of content supports existing content but is not a means in and of itself. With its absence, we lose nothing. But the worst case scenarios? Those are bad. Even if they meant well, someone must have seen the potential for their message to be taken poorly by the American public.

Run through this exercise when you’re debating whether or not you should post any piece of content, but especially what might happen when commenting on current events or commemorations–especially if death is involved. In most cases, just be quiet.