More Poorly Executed Hurricane Sandy PR

Add Gap to the list of brands criticized for releasing Sandy-themed marketing messages during the storm. First there was American Apparel‘s “Sandy Sale“; then there was the Urban Outfitters email blast reading: “This storm blows (but you know what doesn’t?)” Yeah, that would be free shipping on all orders.

On Monday, Gap’s official Twitter feed earned negative feedback (and a full Mashable post) for trying to do the impossible: making statements of support for hurricane victims while simultaneously performing its primary purpose and promoting the Gap brand. Here’s the offending message:

OK, is this message insensitive? It could be seen that way, considering the fact that many who live in the affected area are currently without power and others suffered damage to their homes during the storm. Is it dumb? Certainly, because we can’t imagine too many people counting the hurricane lockdown period as a perfect time to buy chinos online. Was it “on brand”? Absolutely. Again, the purpose of the feed is, above all else, to promote the Gap.

Should we be offended by it? Come on.

Of course marketing messages grow even more irritating in disaster scenarios, when our thoughts turn to the security of our loved ones, our belongings and the communities in which we live. And yes, recurring reminders to spend money on Brand X seem insensitive at the time–but are they, really? At any given moment, as marketers write messages tailored to subscribers, followers or general consumers, terrible things are happening in places all over the world.

The only way for these professionals to avoid being pilloried as insensitive, unthinking brand advocates during similar crises is to either avoid issuing any messages that could be seen as “promotional” or abandon social media altogether. Why would any representative of a global brand like the Gap do either of these things?

The point? Whenever the next big storm strikes, expect brands to continue releasing  tone-deaf promotional statements–and receiving negative feedback in turn. In certain cases, ridicule is deserved. Want to see a truly mean-spirited tweet that had no purpose but to mock a given brand’s perceived “enemies”? Here you go:


@PatrickCoffee Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.