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Disaster Marketing: The Good, The Distasteful and The Backlash


If there’s one thing that brands should do is to react quickly to the latest topics and trends in creating brand engagement. I bet everyone remembers the “white and gold or blue and black dress” that broke the Internet earlier this year, which had probably stopped the earth from spinning. Brands should capitalize on the hype to drive sales, but more notably to raise brand awareness.

It’s fun to take a spin on a fun harmless issue and see it as advertising potential. But how should brands react to more serious and untoward incidents like natural disasters and terrorist attacks? How could brands paint themselves as companies that advocate good corporate social responsibility and not mere opportunists? The key is to be human, be sensitive and show empathy.

In the wake of Paris attacks, many brands and corporations took to social media to display solidarity with France by using the hashtag #PrayForParis. Logos were changed to French flag and heartfelt messages were sent.

THE GOOD

For example, Airbnb offered help to those stranded in Paris by providing them accommodation with little or no cost.

Video chat platforms such as Google Hangout and Skype also showed their support by announcing free calls to France.

Other good example of post-disaster marketing is the ‘United In Warmth’ campaign by Uniqlo after Hurricane Sandy back in 2012. It’s because they contributed their own products, employees’ time and encouraged customers to do the same as well. The campaign felt genuine because they were able to nicely tie in their brand and it actually helped the victims.

THE DISTASTEFUL

When most brands made efforts to be empathetic, some just sounded insincere and distasteful like 50 Cent because they used branded hashtags.

Relating back to the Hurricane Sandy tragedy, companies like American Apparel were criticized for insensitive campaigns by using the coupon code ‘SANDYSALE’ in a very direct reference to the storm.

THE BACKLASH

It’s laudable for Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to show solidarity with Paris by activating Facebook’s tricolour filter for profile photo and the ‘Safety Check’ feature that allows people to connect with friends and loved ones during a disaster.

However, netizens were outraged and argued over Facebook having to only activate the ‘Safety Feature’ for attacks on Paris and not bombings in Beirut that happened just a day before. Zuckerberg’s explanation was that previously Facebook had activated the feature only during natural disasters. It was only after the Paris attack, that the social media giant decided it would be activated “for more human disasters going forward as well.”

At the end of the day, brands and corporations should always step in and help during a disaster – with the best of intentions, of course. During difficult times like this is when brands should take the golden opportunity to build closer relationships with their customers and strengthening public trust.

How would your brand react in the wake of a disaster or tragedy?
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