Mr. Peanut’s death, explained

Mr. Peanut is dead. The monocle-wearing mascot of the snack food company Planters was announced deceased by the official Mr. Peanut Twitter account on January 22, at the age of 104, even though technically he should have died more than a century ago because peanuts, which are not sentient, go bad after about four months.

Yes, it is confusing for an anthropomorphized peanut to die. It also looks quite obviously like a stunt to sell more Planters peanuts, though it’s a potentially flawed marketing strategy, as Mr. Peanut is arguably more famous than Planters itself. Either way, we’re feeding the machine by talking about it at all. Sorry!

How did Mr. Peanut die?

On Wednesday morning, the Mr. Peanut Twitter account tweeted that Mr. Peanut “sacrificed himself to save his friends when they needed him the most,” and requested that followers pay their respects to the anthropomorphic peanut, whose real name, according to Google, is Bartholomew Richard Fitzgerald-Smythe. He was reportedly invented in 1916 by a 10-year-old boy named Anthony Gentile, who submitted a drawing of a smiling peanut with arms and legs to a trademark contest. Did you know that, canonically, Mr. Peanut is British, even though the only two celebrities to have voiced him in commercials have been Americans Robert Downey Jr. in 2010 and Bill Hader in 2013? I did not!

The full story of Mr. Peanut’s death will be told in a forthcoming commercial that will air before, what else, the Super Bowl. Mr. Peanut is in a peanut-shaped car with Veep’s Matt Walsh and Wesley Snipes, for some reason. They swerve to avoid an armadillo and end up going over a cliff, and the three passengers — Walsh, Snipes, and Mr. Peanut — are left hanging on a stray branch that’s too heavy for all three of them, so Mr. Peanut lets go and falls to his death. Naturally, a funeral will follow, in the form of another commercial that will air during the game’s third quarter. Who can even guess which celebrities will be in attendance?

What is the point of this?

Why would a brand murder a mascot who is arguably more famous than the company itself? Like all marketing campaigns, this stunt is intended to get people to talk about it, which we are doing right now. However, it is questionable whether Mr. Peanut was really all that beloved, considering he is also a ruthless capitalist and at least one person on the internet wanted him dead.

Mr. Peanut is not the first mascot to die, at least temporarily; General Mills briefly replaced the cartoon Trix bunny with a real bunny to promote its new all-natural ingredients. It later also replaced the Honey Nut Cheerios bee with a blank silhouette on its boxes as an awareness campaign for the declining bee population. Last year, the dating app Hinge released a campaign in which the fuzzy, googly-eyed version of its logo is both burned in a bonfire and crushed by a falling air conditioner (because they want you to get off the app, get it?).

In Planters’ case, though, it’s possible there is no reason at all that it decided to murder Mr. Peanut. That’s because brands doing nonsensical things is what brands have done ever since they discovered Twitter.

About 10 years ago, companies like Taco Bell, Denny’s, and Hamburger Helper co-opted the uniquely weird and surreal voice of alt-comedy Twitter and ushered in a decade of official brand accounts calling each other virgins. During the government shutdown of 2019, Potbelly sandwiches asked when it could “call dibs on tanks and stuff.” Sunny D tweeted, “I can’t do this anymore.” An aquarium had to apologize for using the word “thicc” to describe an otter. Vita Coco threatened to send a bottle of one of its employees’ urine to an online troll.

By now, the weirdness we expect from Brand Twitter has transcended the platform and is a part of wider marketing campaigns, so that when Planters announces Mr. Peanut died saving Matt Walsh and Wesley Snipes, there is little to be done besides just nod and sigh. This is what brands do now. Mr. Clean has sent his condolences, and there is already an official hashtag, #RIPeanut.

Will Mr. Peanut make a shocking return from the dead during his Super Bowl funeral? Is he actually dead and will he, as my editor Alanna Okun predicts, be replaced by his feminist Gen Z daughter, Ms. Peanut? Or is this a punishment for being simply too horny in those commercials a few years ago? Unfortunately, we’ll find out soon.

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Rebecca Jennings Rebecca Jennings Read More