Brands are wasting little time tweeting around #Blizzardof2015 and #Snowmageddon2015, two hashtags already trending nationally.
Toyota and GoToMyPC, a mobile app, are buying Promoted Tweets around the hashtag, while DiGiorno, Red Vines and Banana Republic are having real-time fun with the potentially historic weather about to hit the East Coast. (Check out a few examples below.)
But as conditions worsen, some may begin wondering whether brands should be playing too flippantly with a storm as dangerous as the blizzard is expected to become.
"Certain brands might be able to contribute if they have a snow-related angle and are relevant to the conversation, but they should be exceedingly cautious when it comes to storms of this magnitude that could cause real devastation and even deaths," said Andrew Cunningham, community lead at Huge. "Brands definitely don't want to seem like they are capitalizing on potential tragedies."
Jill Sherman, a vp/general director of social and content strategy at DigitasLBi Boston, agreed with Cunningham's common-sense take.
"Blizzards turn into natural disasters pretty quickly, so being cheeky or insensitive can—and will—backfire," she said. "To play it safe, brands can enter the conversation with helpful safety hints or stay-warm ideas."
Sherman suggested sharing appropriate recipes and games for when folks batten down the hatches, though she acknowledged that many brands will want to focus more on light-hearted conversation than disaster preparedness.
"For those brands that just can't help themselves, be sure your social media manager is watching the news ticker. Be ready to sign off before anyone gets hurt. And if you screw up, apologize. Don't hide behind a cloak of silence."
Shankar Gupta, vp of strategy at 360i, said a challenge for brands in the next 24 hours will be to create something other than newsfeed-cluttering noise.
"If a brand has some real role to play for consumers in a blizzard, then by all means, go for it," he said. "But if not, brands just talking about the weather is pretty dull—even duller than humans talking about the weather."
So far, today's branded #Blizzardof2015 samples indicate that some marketers are willing to take the risk. Dairy Queen, with its Blizzard ice cream offerings, could be an account to watch in the next several hours. So far it's been playing things safely, retweeting references to its popular soft-serve malts.
Dairy Queen blizzard >>> real-life blizzard— HuffPost Teen (@HuffPostTeen) January 26, 2015
The only blizzard I want is a @DairyQueen blizzard.— Courtney Elle H. (@CourtneyElleH) January 26, 2015
Kevin Scholl, digital marketing director at Red Roof Inn, suggested the blizzard offered his brand an opportunity to provide utility to potential customers on Twitter and Facebook rather than creating a big viral splash. Bookings, of course, are also at the top of mind.
"In the event of weather, we can help our guests navigate out of it and into a hotel," he said. "Guests who are traveling to a location, we can keep them informed in real time the status of the area they are traveling."
Scholl didn't reveal more about his brand's strategy going into tonight, but based on his past comments, one can guess that Red Roof Inn will be looking at geo-targeted search advertising around airports. People are bound to get stranded in the next few days, unfortunately.
Meanwhile, check out the marketing world's #Blizzardof2015/#Snowmageddon2015 Twitter efforts so far:
Pizza (@DiGiornoPizza) January 26, 2015
So this means staying in bed + watching netflix, right? #blizzardof2015— Banana Republic (@BananaRepublic) January 26, 2015
Bundle up NYC. #BlizzardOf2015— Brooks Brothers (@BrooksBrothers) January 26, 2015