Disaster tends to bring out the best and the worst in us.
Some marketers recently exhibited some of the worst as they tried to capitalize on the hurricane.
Retailers like Gap, Urban Outfitters and American Apparel launched and then quickly withdrew campaigns and sales that lamely tried to play cute with taglines that referred to “flood,” "storm,” "wind” and “power.” Those attempts didn’t play well at all with people who lost loved ones, homes, cars and/or power and the everyday conveniences that come with electricity.
Who knows what the marketing execs at these companies (and their agencies) were thinking. Or perhaps they simply weren’t thinking at all. Those companies were called out loudly online and in social media, and they suffered further embarrassment in major media including The New York Times.
Linking to major events can be a good idea, but that’s when the events are things like Super Bowl, The World Series, daylight savings or Halloween. But to hitch your wagon to the most devastating hurricane in memory is… just plain dumb!
At the same time as some companies were making bad marketing moves, others were doing really smart things to bolster customer relations and build goodwill. Duracell, the battery company, had portable power stations in high-visibility locations like Times Square, where people could plug in for free to charge cellphones and laptops. Photos, with the Duracell logo clearly shown, appeared in newspapers and online. Stuart Elliott featured it in his Times column on Thursday.
Other companies did smart things to help customers and non-customers alike, not necessarily aimed at generating publicity, but certainly cementing relationships with customers and possibly bringing in new customers over time.
In midtown Manhattan, where power didn’t go out, banks, stores and cafes opened their doors and floors to people looking to recharge their mobile devices. At the Chase branch where I bank, on Second Avenue and 43rd Street, the ATM lobby became a recharging center. Dozens of people sat on the floor or on the window sills, recharging and talking on their phones and working on their laptops. The folks at Chase had put out extension cords so many people could plug in. They put up free coffee, and they opened their restrooms to the power-deprived.
I saw similar scenes at local Staples stores, where they also offered use of the floor model laptops. And Starbucks, Cosi and other coffee shops were also filled to the brim with people nursing a cup of coffee while catching up on the phone or online.
For Chase, it’s already paid off beautifully in publicity. A 1/3-page photo in Friday’s New York Times showed people at the Chase branch, with the Chase name boldly and clearly visible four or fives times over the ATMs shown in the picture.
The lesson here… think before capitalizing on a big event.