Why a natural disaster is never a marketing opportunity

The brands that decided to use Superstorm Sandy as an opportunity to drive sales showcased the very worst kind of marketing, writes Nicola Kemp.

For many of the 6m Americans who woke up to darkness just over a week ago, their landscape will have irrevocably changed.

While economists are scrambling to count the financial cost of the deadly surge of Superstorm Sandy, some consumers will be coming to terms with unfathomable tragedy. At the time of writing, at least 70 deaths have been tied to the storm in the US, which has wreaked havoc on parts of the east coast and north-east of the country.

The New York Stock Exchange closed for two days, and Obama and Romney placed their campaigning for the Presidency on hold.

Why, then, did clothing retailer American Apparel feel that an email blast for a 'Hurricane Sandy Sale' offering consumers 20% off for the next 36 hours 'in case you're bored during the storm' was anything other than horrendously inappropriate.

Unfortunately, this was no lone example of the crassest and most insensitive type of marketing on display. Gap took to its Twitter account to declare: 'All impacted by #Sandy, stay safe! We'll be doing lots of Gap.com shopping today. How about you?'

In a similar vein, last year fashion designer Kenneth Cole's Twitter feed infamously made light of the democracy protests in Egypt, jokily tweeting: 'Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online.'

Real-time marketing, the 24-7 culture, marketing never stops; we have all read these cliches so often that they have almost become wallpaper to those in the industry.

Nonetheless, the creation of a culture in which a natural disaster is seen by some practitioners as primarily a marketing opportunity is, quite simply, frightening.

It is a well-worn adage that half of all art is knowing when to stop; brands faced with the very worst ravages of nature need to know when to - please - just shut up.

 

THE UPSHOT

What brands should know about knowing when to shut up

Be decent

It is tempting to start with the simple directive 'do not act like a moron' or engage in the kind of marketing that would make Malcolm Tucker blush; but it is about so much more. Brands cannot operate in a moral vacuum and marketers must never be afraid to voice their concerns about irresponsible activity.

You are not always part of the conversation

In the flurry to prove their social credentials many brands think they have the right to engage with anything. This mistaken belief has led Pizza Hut to attempt to co-opt a Presidential debate and American Apparel to view Sandy as a sales vehicle.

Beware the marketing fishbowl

A hurricane is not a marketing opportunity; nor can it be diminished to a marketing lesson. Marketers need to look beyond their brand and their industry and maintain a broader perspective on the world.

Kindness matters

Amid the slash-and-burn mentality of the recession, businesses must beware of fostering toxic cultures. A relentless focus on sales above all other considerations can be corrosive.

Nicola Kemp is Marketing's head of features. Follow her on Twitter: @nickykc.

Discussion

Before commenting please read our rules for commenting on articles.

If you see a comment you find offensive, you can flag it as inappropriate. In the top right-hand corner of an individual comment, you will see 'flag as inappropriate'. Clicking this prompts us to review the comment. For further information see our rules for commenting on articles.

comments powered by Disqus
Brand Republic Jobs

subscribe now

Latest

Oasis #springasmile digital campaign gets people doing good deeds
Coca-Cola: 'Don't approach bloggers with a fait accompli'
Tesco CMO Matt Atkinson: 'It is so important not to stereotype mothers'
McDonald's gives Ronald a new look ahead of global 'Fun times' social media push
In pictures: BrewDog opens first craft beer shop BottleDog for 'beer aficionados'
Facebook ad revenue leaps $1bn as it invests in targeting
Malteser or Maltesers? Mars takes Hershey trademark dispute to court
Apple Q2 profits top $10bn as iPhone sales soar
Lynx tells men not to leave love to fate
HBO captures awkwardness of watching sex scenes with parents
Primark to open first US stores with Boston chosen as flagship location
Marketing spend on the up but a reality check is needed before celebrating
Top 10 ads of the week: Jackpotjoy and BT Broadband fend off Kevin Bacon
Lidl beats Tesco to 10m Facebook fans
Center Parcs ad banned for encouraging parents to take kids out of school
Coca-Cola, Cadbury and Amazon named top brands for targeting youth market
Leaked document shows Nokia to be rebranded as Microsoft Mobile
Nike lays-off hardware staff in move that casts doubt on future of FuelBand
Greenpeace says save the bees or humans will die
What brands need to know about changes to VAT and online downloads in 2015
Jimmy Savile victims urged to claim compensation in new ad campaign
UKIP launches biggest  ad campaign and stirs up 'racist' accusations
Apple boss Tim Cook provides voiceover on ad touting firm's renewed green commitments
John Lewis walks consumers through its history to celebrate 150 years of business
Waitrose boosts content strategy with 'Weekend Kitchen with Waitrose' C4 tie-up
Hottest virals: Cute puppies star in Pedigree ad, plus Idris Elba and Fruyo
Amnesty International burns candles to illuminate new hope
Tom of Finland's 'homoerotic' drawings made into stamps
Toyota achieves the impossible by calming angry Roman drivers
YouTube reveals user habits to appeal to 'older' marketers