Hurricane Sandy was devastating. It took the lives of 113 people. An estimated 30,000 to 40,000 people will be left homeless. 8,000,000 people were without power from South Carolina to Maine (and many still remain without power). Amid the chaos, four major retailers somehow saw Hurricane Sandy as a marketing opportunity. Perhaps the potential dollar signs clouded their common sense and sensitivity for fellow Americans.
Here’s how American Apparel, Urban Outfitters, Jonathan Adler, and Gap exploited #Sandy:
American Apparel launched a Hurricane Sandy sale for states affected by the hurricane in case they were "bored":
Urban Outfitters offered free shipping in a tweet that including the hashtag #Frankenstorm:
Jonathan Adler also offered free shipping with the promo code SANDY which was then changed to STUCKINSIDE:
Gap even checked in at “Frankenstorm Apocalypse- Hurricane Sandy” on Foursquare and leveraged the hashtag #Sandy to promote shopping:
Just because a topic is receiving a spike in social chatter or is trending on Twitter, does not make it appropriate to exploit a catastrophe. Marketers, have we not learned from Kenneth Cole’s horrendous #Cairo tweet?
These four retailers pissed off a lot of customers and other social media users. And now these brands are in damage control mode. Of course, they’ve apologized for their incredible insensitivity (well, apparently not American Apparel), but their brand reputation is now tarnished.
This is a situation where Advocates could come to a brand’s rescue. Brand Advocates will not only support and promote their favorite companies, but they will defend them as well. For example, Gap could rally their Advocates to share this news: Gap is donating $1 million in cash and clothing to Hurricane Sandy relief. Spreading the word about their support of an important cause could at least drown out some of the backlash their tweet caused in the Twittersphere.
Let’s face it. We’re all human and we all make mistakes. But if you don’t have an army of Advocates ready to mobilize when you need it most, you could be left to fend for yourself.
If you would like to donate to Hurricane Sandy relief, please visit American Red Cross.