Thursday, November 1, 2012

Communication Gap and an Un-American Decision: Sandy Sinks More Than Property

By: Vanessa Horwell, Chief Visibility Officer

Sometimes 140-characters isn’t enough.

In my continuing efforts to practice what we preach at ThinkInk when it comes to the importance of social media, yesterday I tweeted about two retailers, The Gap, and American Apparel and their careless  (some would add heartless and foolish to the list of descriptors) marketing ploy. Both tried to weasel their way into “competitive advantage” following the devastation and destruction wrought across the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic by hurricane/super storm/nor’easter/post-tropical storm/Frankenstorm Sandy.

Both companies reached the absurd conclusion that marketing to customers during a tempest that rivaled the ferociousness of weather not seen since 1888 was a smart idea - and a novel way to win loyalty.

Wrong. And this Tweeter needed to go on her own tear.

American Apparel’s 36-hour, 20% off “in case you’re bored” sale was geared toward residents in nine of the 11 states in the grip of the crisis: New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. Why Rhode Island, a New England state where summer cottages fell into the sea and West Virginia, pounded with some 3 ft. of snow in higher elevations, were left off the “generous” list remains unknown. For its part in the PR fail, Gap sent out a tweet that while telling people to be safe, also nudged them to consider a dose of retail therapy.

Needless to say, the public reaction has been swift and the Twitterverse is alive with derision, with “the lowest of low,” being a very common tweeted and re-tweeted sentiment.

Misery loves company as the saying goes, so of course there are plenty of examples of Gap and American Apparel-like PR blunders. Just last year Kenneth Cole’s Twitter account tweeted:

“Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online.”


But returning to the recent crisis at hand, as a PR professional I wanted to go on record and add my voice to the chorus of disapproval. It’s truly disturbing that someone, somewhere, likely paid a decent to very decent salary, had the light bulb go off in their head and thought, “Wow, I’ve got the brainiest of ideas! Let’s use a natural disaster for our own gain and corporate greed.”

Well, I’m sure that in many Gaps and American Apparels across the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic their light bulbs (and their heat, and phone lines, and computer systems) really are off now. Perhaps time spent in the cold and dark, thrown back for a moment to simpler times, will remind executives and higher ups at these retailers and beyond that the almighty dollar is not always king.
Many of our clients speak about the importance of driving quality experiences. Having a dose of humility and knowing when not to hard sell, soft sell, or anything-else sell is also a respectful way to move beyond the pettiness and triviality of our daily lives.

When New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a staunch Republican, praises President Obama for a job well done handling this historic calamity, you know you’re approaching the humility, honesty and transparency of which I write.

Eventually, every state impacted by Sandy’s arrival will rebuild. Beaches will open for summer. Amusement parks will charge overpriced tickets. Communities will come together and the lights will come back on. Just know that for every American Apparel and Gap blunder, there are other companies, nonprofits, communication companies, and everyday citizens all-too-eager to lend a hand and help.

None of them come 20% off. They’ll be there 100%.

Shame on American Apparel and the Gap – two companies whose despicable actions won’t fast be lost to the waves, nor this PR executive.

And if you would like to help your fellow citizens who were impacted by the storms, here are a couple of links where you can donate money or blood to the relief efforts.  If they were half-clever, that’s what American Apparel and Gap should have been encouraging people to do, not banking on others’ misfortune.

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