When to Separate Your Brand From an Emotional Event

by · June 19, 20136 comments

Within the past 12 months, we’ve seen no shortage of disasters that range from Hurricane Sandy, the mass shooting in Aurora and most recently the Boston Marathon bombings. For some brands, it may appear that the marketing window of opportunity has opened; if so, my advice to you is, shut that window and board it up… immediately.

Brands that refuse to shut the window and proceed to capitalize on these emotional events as a springboard for marketing ploys have quickly joined the ranks of ‘worst social media disasters of the year’. Just ask American Apparel (20% Off Sale during Hurricane Sandy using code “SANDYSALE”), Gap (promoting shoppers to shop at Gap.com to ‘stay safe’ and checking into Foursquare at “Frankenstorm Apocalypse — Hurricane Sandy”) and American Rifleman, whose scheduled tweet (“Good morning, shooters. Happy Friday! Weekend plans?”) was published as the mass shooting in Aurora was developing.

So, when do you separate your Brand from an emotional event?

  1. When death, destruction or harm has unfolded.
  2. Ask yourself and others, “Could this be perceived as insensitive?” If you hesitate, don’t participate.
  3. Put yourself at the heart of the event – would you be handing out gimmicky 20% off coupons to families and those impacted by the tragic events? Didn’t think so.
  4. Use common sense in the wake of emotional events. Weigh the risks of your content against the potential backlash or public perception that may follow.

These may seem like common sense tips, but as we’ve seen time and time again, social media common sense, isn’t very common. It’s easy to think in terms of a marketer without taking off the blinders. Basing your decisions on emotion and adrenaline under the premise of seizing the opportunity, can sometimes be a recipe for disaster.

Exceptions to the rule include:

  • OREO: During the Super Bowl, Tweeted a timely ad on Twitter regarding the blackout, “You can still dunk in the dark.” Referencing the rules above, you can see how this timely marketing message clearly won over consumers and marketers alike. It’s probably also important to note that OREO had a 15-person social media team ready to respond to online activity during the Super Bowl; be prepared.
  • Offering legitimate assistance to those impacted. Examples include insurance companies that offered guidance on how to file claims, volunteer organizations rallying to provide relief, hotels offering free stays to those impacted by the tragedy and airlines waiving cancellation or rescheduling fees. Even in these instances, Brands can become scrutinized. Keep your intentions pure, your messaging relevant / value-added, don’t try to push your Brand and ensure there aren’t any ‘catches’.

Helpful hints and tips:

  • In the world of SMMS (Social Media Management Systems), it’s easy to schedule your content calendar well in advance and can also be the easiest thing to forget, so review and double-check your scheduled posts immediately. As a lesson learned from the American Rifleman example above, your scheduled post can put you in hot water, quickly, regardless of intent.
  • Review your content calendar to ensure future posts aren’t perceived as insensitive.
  • In general, your Brand loses nothing by canceling any scheduled posts or opting not to post anything for the day or the day following.
  • If you choose to post, offering your commiserations, exclude anything that could be perceived as if your Brand is trying to jockey for engagement or content that relates to religion or politics; be agnostic. Keep it short, simple, relevant and to the point.
  • If you’re in a large organization, ensure you alert all community managers regarding best practices and guidance for your organization so everyone is aligned and there’s one unified and consistent voice. Make sure the left hand knows what the right is doing.
  • So you decided you’d post your marketing gimmick anyway? Run it past your colleagues and biggest cynics within your organization to get a quick pulse. 
  • If you decide you want to push the envelope and be that daring marketer, ensure you have a crisis communication protocol in place. Don’t have one? Altimeter Group provides an excellent report: Social Readiness: How Advanced Companies Prepare (Link: http://www.altimetergroup.com/research/reports/social-business-readiness)
  • Lastly, if you make a mistake – own it, apologize and take responsibility to make it right.

In the end, it’s up your Brand to determine where you fall on the spectrum. Keep it genuine, empathize and take your foot off the marketing gas-pedal during times of tragedy. Be human.

Did you enjoy this blog post? If so, then why not:Leave Comment Below | Subscribe To This Blog | Sign Up For Our Newsletter |

About Lewis Bertolucci

Lewis Bertolucci

Lewis is the Head of Social Media for Humana Inc. - a leading health care company that offers a wide range of insurance products and health and wellness services that incorporate an integrated approach to lifelong well-being. Lewis is also founder of an online lifestyle magazine, LimeWedge.net and hyper-local online news-stand, Discover-Louisville.com. Follow Lewis on Twitter, Instagram and Vine @Lewis502

Other posts by

Comments & Reactions

Comments Policy

Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?