Using Disasters as a Marketing/PR Tool = Bad Idea


The wave from a tsunami crashes over a street in Miyako City Read more: http://bit.ly/dZqazh

In the last few days at least three different companies attempted to use social media as a way to capitalize on the most talked about story on the Internet–the earthquake and tsunami tragedy that hit Japan on March 11. Tens of thousands of people are probably dead and it will likely be weeks before they have a true idea of the impact. And now, several regions are dealing with massive challenges regarding the safety of its nuclear plants. It’s a disaster on a scale that we have not seen in our lifetimes.

As a result, many are baffled by companies who choose to use this tragedy as a way to gain attention to itself.  Both Microsoft Bing and drink manufacturer VitaCoco took the opportunity to tweet they are donating money to help Japan if people retweet. But it’s confusing…if they want to help, why ask people to retweet their news? Simply make a statement that you are giving a donation–don’t make it conditional. Don’t use it as a marketing opportunity. It’s just incredibly poor taste.

Microsoft apologized. VitaCoco took the tweet down and seems to be laying low (are you donating or not?). But the Internet is unforgiving. What goes onto the Net, stays on the Net. Deleting isn’t much of an option if dozens are actually doing what you asked and retweeting. Or, like me, talk about the mishap.

Even worse, Singapore TV company MediaCorp took the opportunity to directly sell advertisements ($5k a pop), with the hook that advertisers can be part of “breaking news coverage.” They apologized.

A few weeks ago Kenneth Cole also had a similar gaffe, and while it wasn’t about a disaster, it was about massive civil unrest, tweeting about how the uproar in Cairo was about how the masses heard the new KC spring collection was online. People were not amused and he too issued an apology.

It’s interesting to me that there is a general lack of common sense about this type of thing. Are marketers and communications people so desperate to cut through the noise that they will stoop to taking advantage of death and destruction? It seems it. But the PR backlash isn’t worth it, I promise you.  If you want to take advantage of death and destruction go sponsor a horror flick.

Just do good in the world. Come up with solutions (Google, you rock for this) vs. asking others to jump on your bandwagon.

For those of you who want to know how to donate, please go to the Red Cross and share what you can.

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  • Peter Armaly

    Nailed it, and it was nice you gave kudos to Google.