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Using Disasters In Marketing

Posted by Michael Bloch in web marketing (Wednesday October 31, 2012 )

A few US merchants decided to use Hurricane Sandy as a platform for sales campaigns. It seems to have backfired and there’s a lessons in this for all of us.

American Apparel is facing its own storm after their “Hurricane Sandy Sale” resulted in a surge of protests on Twitter.

If the company’s marketing department believes all publicity is good publicity, then they achieved massive success with the ploy. However, they might discover that old furphy isn’t true at all. I’ve read quite a few boycott threats; an increasingly common occurrence in this age of the Perpetually Outraged Consumer.

It really surprises me that so many big companies still find themselves in the midst of social media disasters when there is so much precedent that really should act as a warning about this sort of thing. People are understandably particularly sensitive when disasters happen in their own back yard – and this sale was targeted to folks in states in Sandy’s path.

Sure, it may have been pitched in a light-hearted way, but humor is a very fragile thing on the web – it’s so easy for it to be misinterpreted.

I guess a way some of these companies could regain some lost credibility is to make a generous donation to appeals for funds to help disaster relief and rebuilding efforts after Sandy – and perhaps that’s something they should have run with for starters as a PR exercise; one that could have also helped bolster sales.

Tip: Running a sale and offering to give a slice of the profits to disaster relief can also be a little risky; particularly if the disaster is local and current or very recent. Even if there’s no sale involved and you’re just wanting people to spread a particular related message, it isn’t without its dangers.

For example, Microsoft’s campaign after the Japan earthquake/tsunami disaster to give $1 for every retweet of its message really didn’t go down well in the Twitterverse.

Disasters are probably best left well alone in marketing unless you’re donating something without any strings and without any expectations aside from the warm and fuzzy feeling of doing good.


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