Paul Walker's fame has increased since his death
Fans complained when an ad featuring Walker ran right after his death
A coffee shop apologized after marking tip jars with Walker movie names
In death, Paul Walker has found more fame and exposure than ever before.
The announcement that Universal Studios plans to donate a portion of the “Fast and Furious 6” DVD, Blu-ray and digital sales to Walker’s charity, Reach Out WorldWide, is just the latest instance of the continued buzz that has surrounded the actor since he and a friend were killed in a car crash on Saturday.
The attention has run the gamut from the charitable to what some have viewed as exploitative.
According to E!, fans were not happy when a commercial for the Cool Water fragrance featuring Walker – who served as as a spokesmodel for the men’s cologne – was run in the United Kingdom during a soccer match hours after the actor’s death. Michele Scannavini, chief executive officer of Coty Inc., which owns the Cool Water brand, issued a statement of apology.
“We send our deepest and most sincere condolences to Paul’s family, friends and fans around the world,” he said.
“We are working quickly to suspend all of our ads featuring Paul out of respect to his family and friends. We apologize for any upset that may have been caused by those that were aired subsequent to his death.”
Similarly Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf café in Los Angeles found itself in hot water after actor Jason Biggs tweeted a question as to whether their tip jars marked “Fast and Furious” and “Varsity Blues” “seem exploitive [sic] and in poor taste?”
“This is completely inconsistent with our brand values and the jars have since been removed,” a spokesperson for the company said in a statement to the site Gossip Cop. “Our thoughts and condolences remain with the many friends and family of Paul Walker during this difficult time.”
Denver D’Rozario is a marketing professor at Howard University who has conducted research on the use of images of dead celebrities in advertising and marketing. Companies know that a celeb has a built in fan base that can be marketed to, he said. He said the family of the celeb plays a key factor in the discussion regarding the ethics of money making post a star’s death.
The family is “the No. 1 stakeholder that has to be consulted,” he said. Some celebrities, such as Paul Newman who died in 2008, have authorized that certain endorsements be allowed after their death.
The “Fast & Furious” franchise has been wildly successful. “Fast & Furious 6” earned $238 million domestically and $788 million worldwide. Production of “Fast & Furious 7,” which was filming in Atlanta at the time of Walker’s death, has been halted. On Wednesday, the studio released a tribute video to Walker.
Walker played ex-police officer Brian O’Conner in the series, a role which helped catapult him to celebrity. But nothing compared to the attention being given him and his career now.
The Internet has paid homage, if it can be called that, with a series of memes, some of them respectful and many of them not. The Twitter account 4AutoInsuranceQuote sent out multiple tweets (including to @CNNShowbiz) that questioned whether Walker was insured at the time of the accident and encouraged getting a quote for coverage.
The London Evening Standard reported on the outrage following those tweets with at least one Twitter user calling for the company’s social media manager to be fired. The Twitter acccount links to the 4AutoInsuranceQuote website, but CNN was unable to reach anyone at the company via the provided phone number.
When Jezebel editor Erin Gloria Ryan tweeted (and later deleted) “Why couldn’t it be Scott Walker :-( #wisconsintweets” referring to the Republican Wisconsin governor who this summer was criticized for an abortion law he signed, she was roundly slammed. Ryan apologized via Twitter including saying “No excuse. It was dumb. I’m sorry.”
Writing for New York Magazine’s “The Cut,” Ann Friedman noted that discussion about the actor and the tragedy was inescapable after the crash – as was the grieving.
“Over the course of the next two days, nearly every heterosexual woman in my life mentioned the death of the Fast and the Furious actor,” she wrote. “They were low-level distraught, as if they’d lost a distant cousin or ex-boyfriend from way back, but their sadness was palpable.”
Such grief could easily calculate to robust sales for the DVD of what may become Walker’s last “Fast & Furious” film if the studio decides to scrap the latest production, given the sensitivities of showing an actor who died in a car crash in a film about driving fast cars. Estates of countless stars including Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson saw boosts in sales of items associated with them after their surprising deaths.
That could also mean a boost for Walker’s charity, Reach Out Worldwide, which offers assistance around the world during disaster. According to 2011 tax information from the organization, 35% of the funds raised went to the charity’s programs. The rest of the funds are used for administrative and fund raising costs.
D’Rozario said the success of any sales attributed to Walker is up to those who supported his career.
“Ultimately it’s all about the fans,” D’Rozario said. “The fan base is not going to go away just because a celebrity dies.”