From Tragedy to T-shirts: Trayvon Martin Promotional Products Raise Questions
The February 26 death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin continues to dominate headlines across the country. The untimely death of the Florida teen and ongoing investigation have raised questions about myriad topics including racism, concealed weapon laws, media bias, neighborhood watch organizations and, now, promotional products.
Associated Press writer Curt Anderson published "Trayvon Inc: Fla teen's case turns into brand" on March 28, discussing the rise in Martin-related products flooding the market: "From the T-shirt and hoodie sales to trademarking slogans like 'Justice for Trayvon' to the pass-the-hat rallies that bring in thousands, the case of an unarmed black teenager killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer is quickly turning into an Internet-fueled brand."
The article continues, "Websites are hawking key chains bearing Trayvon Martin's likeness. ... Trayvon clothes, bumper stickers, buttons and posters are up for grabs on eBay." Within days the article was republished in papers across the country, including USA Today, The Washington Post and The Philadelphia Inquirer.
The use of promotional T-shirts and bumper stickers to raise awareness is a standard procedure in cause marketing, but the increased attention to the Martin case brings increased scrutiny to the practice and the products. While many sellers are donating all or a portion of proceeds to Martin's family, street vendors selling screen-printed hoodies may have purely profit-driven motives. Meanwhile, following the money from those that claim to be raising funds remains a dubious endeavor.
With so much attention on the case, and the proliferation of imprinted products surrounding it, the question of whether people would try to profit off of the death of Martin was inevitable. The Los Angeles Times published an article last week looking at the rise of products related to Martin and George Zimmerman, the 28-year-old who shot Martin (and who, it was just announced, will have criminal charges filed against him), while The International Business Times reported that some are accusing Martin's mother, Sybrina Fulton, of trying to capitalize on the situation. According to documents obtained by The Smoking Gun, Fulton filed two trademark applications on March 21 for "I Am Trayvon" and "Justice for Trayvon" for use in "Digital materials, namely, CDs and DVDs featuring Trayvon Martin."