American Apparel Sandy Fire sale kills branding

“in case you’re bored during the storm.” – image via Mashable

There’s serious issues with brands promoting marketing campaigns in affiliation with tragedies or natural disasters.

Monday, American Apparel, Urban Outfitters, and others, sent email blasts to their East Coast customers announcing ‘Hurricane Sandy Sales.’ These are feeble attempts at latching onto trending news for monetary gain – these brands don’t get “it.”

The public at large took serious issue with these ballsy marketing tactics – taking to Twitter to voice disdain. Exploiting any tragedy for monetary gain is insensitive, ignorant and careless. People are dying, infrastructure is forever destroyed and millions are without power.

We’ve seen brands try these shenanigans before, perhaps you’ll remember Kenneth Cole’s backfired attempt at capitalizing on the Egyptian protests in February 2012. Their brand image took a huge hit, causing controversy, outrage, and a ton of angry tweeters.

#Branding ~ is it worth it?

Short-sighted attempts at injecting your business into current events for the sake of driving profit is a death sentence with the immediacy of social media. People sniff this type of garbage pretty damn quickly.

Companies work hard to build global sustainable brands. Individuals identify with and become passionate about these brands, but this all takes time. Brand love is tough to gain, but easy to lose.

Expectations become shattered and opinions quickly transform amidst a hint of controversy. With American Apparel (and others), people took to Twitter to voice their disapproval. From a PR perspective, this turns into a nightmare.

You won’t win a PR battle on Twitter

Once the tweets start pouring in, news spreads like wildfire. Twitter is the ultimate modern-day word of mouth medium. Everyone has a voice, a story and ultimately an opinion.

People tend to strengthen worldviews in times of crisis or tragedy – sticking to their core values more than ever. In this somewhat fragile state, anything that defies expectations, positively or negatively, becomes amplified.

This is why such a barrage of angry tweets took over Twitter Monday morning at the cost of these brands public image.

Jacking the News?

‘Newsjacking’ is a term coined by David Meerman Scott. The gist being, if companies have an angle to creatively latch on to a trending news story, they can effectively insert themselves into public conversation. This generates buzz they would not otherwise enjoy. Newsjacking is tricky because brands need a relevant way to tie themselves to the news story.

The Sandy fire sale is clearly newsjacking gone wrong. David mentioned how newsjacking is damaging when a brand attempts to inject itself into news without a legitimate tie to the story. American Apparel, Urban Outfitters, and others are merely the latest to fall into this trap.

Over to you.

Does it offend you when brands try to take advantage of tragedy?