It could've been Starbursts, Twizzlers or Sour Patch Kids. But when Trayvon Martin was fatally shot, he happened to be carrying a bag of Skittles.
The 17-year-old's death at the hands of a neighborhood watchman in February ignited nationwide protests and heated debate about racial profiling and "Stand Your Ground" laws.
For Mars Inc., the privately held company that owns Skittles, the tragedy presents another, more surreal dimension. Protestors carried bags of the chewy fruit-flavored candy while marching for the arrest of shooter George Zimmerman. Mourners pinned the bright red wrappers to their hooded sweatshirts at memorial services.
The best approach for companies is to maintain a low profile, says Katherine Sredl, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Notre Dame's Mendoza College of Business. That's particularly true in the Martin case, where any action by Mars could be interpreted as insincere or opportunistic.