It would seem obvious these days that capitalizing on catastrophe via social media is in poor taste. So why would an otherwise savvy brand like American Apparel appear to be doing exactly that?
It’s one thing for a business somehow connected with a major upheaval to approach the line between altruism and marketing. And it’s certainly a fine line. Consider American Express’ Sandy-related communication efforts for its travel customers:
But it’s another thing entirely to risk the appearance of piggybacking on disaster for advertising’s sake. Sure, it gets some buzz, but is it worth all the backlash?
As reported by Huffington Post:
CEO Dov Charney did not express disappointment over American Apparel’s marketing team capitalizing on Hurricane Sandy. ”I don’t think our marketing guys made a mistake. Part of what you want to do in these events is keep the wheels of commerce going,” he told Business Week. “People shopped on it. We generated tens of thousands of dollars from the sale, but we’ll probably lose a million dollars from this (storm) event at a minimum. We’re here to sell clothing. I’m sleeping well at night knowing this was not a serious matter.”
And here’s another take from American Apparel’s representatives, via Fashionista:
When reached for comment over email, an American Apparel spokesperson told us, “Of course we’d never mean to offend anyone and when we put the email out yesterday it came from a good place.”
So, is this really a big deal?
However in poor taste it may now seem in the wake of Sandy’s devastation, American Apparel’s approach was not in mean spirits, even though it’s easy to characterize it as such. The company has a history of corporate responsibility – along with a history of pushing the envelope through its marketing for PR purposes. And it serves them no purpose whatsoever to appear flippant or dismissive. Upon investigation, it’s clear they don’t wish anyone further misery from Hurricane Sandy, what with their acknowledging as much in the subsequent damage control. As reported by ABC News:
Ryan Holiday, spokesperson for American Apparel, responded to ABC News in an email:
“For us, this is about us working like crazy to get and keep our stores open. We’ve got employees who can’t work when stores are closed due to weather and the biggest Made in USA factory in the country that sits idle–we would never try to offend anyone or capitalize on a natural disaster, this was simply an effort to mitigate some of the effects of the storm on our business.”
Fair enough. So what next?
My advice for American Apparel right now:
- Turn your affected stores into recharge-stations with power strips and free wi-fi for all so someone can tweet some good about you. Buy generators if necessary. It won’t cost much and ROI would be huge.
- Give 20% off to ANYONE, nationwide, referencing the ad for the next week to capitalize on the viral nature of the campaign, requiring a tweet or Facebook post with hashtag #aacares or similar. Cost to you: minimal.
- Donate 20% of profits for the next week to northeast U.S. chapters of the Red Cross. Yes, this will cost some cash, but there’s no arguing with a monetary statement.
- Get on Twitter and acknowledge the backlash. You can do better than “We don’t think it was offensive. We’re sorry if others thought it was.” Again, cost = $0.
- Just be proactive somehow to make this right. Or risk being one of the “don’ts” of social media. Better to be one of the “OK, we get it” stories instead.
What do you think? Is this a PR blunder or a marketing gimmick? Are you more or less inclined to shop American Apparel now? Do these suggestions make sense, or is there something you would recommend? Let us hear from you in the comments.
- American Apparel and The Lesson I Want You To Learn From Their Mistake (melissaagnes.com)
- Brazilian “Model” Gets Called Out For Posing With Hurricane Sandy Debris (bossip.com)
- Newsjacking: When is it Appropriate? (ragan.com)
- American Apparel’s hurricane faux pas (salon.com)
- PR Fail: American Apparel’s ‘Hurricane Sandy Sale’ (mediabistro.com)
- Sandy as Marketing Tool (marketplace.org)
- Sandy Fail: American Apparel’s Hurricane Sale Doesn’t Go Over Well (Time.com)
- During Sandy, Retailers Forget ‘Audience First’ PR Rule (prnewsonline.com)