Marketing during Human Tragedy = Unthinkable Insensitivity

To say it’s been a tragic week for U.S. citizens, and even the billions around the world, is a gross understatement. The unfathomable events that transpired this week—from the very first explosion during the Boston Marathon, to the Texas fertilizer plant blast, to the still ongoing hunt for Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev—have left us all without words.

Disbelief, Distraught, Empathy, Anger and Confusion have entered our world—from our local delis to our workplace to our neighborhoods. And all we can do is ask: “Why?”

Why does such evil exist in this world? Why has our universe become so recently shattered—not to forget the Batman movie shooting to the Sandy Hook massacre—making us afraid of even our own shadow? Why does it seem that acts of cruelty occur more frequently than acts of benevolence?

While we all certainly have our whys, another one crept up for many of us this week, when Epicurious, an online publication devoted to food aficionados, did the unthinkable: it used the horrific marathon bombing to market its recipes.

On Monday, April 15, just minutes following the announcement of the bombings, just like many companies out there, the company took to Twitter to post the following:

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Expected and appropriate.

The next day, the following tweets were sent:

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The attempt to market during one of the worst attacks on U.S. soil since September 11 is beyond insensitive—it’s completely unforgivable.

Three lives were lost on Monday, many more lives hang in the balance, and dozens upon dozens of innocent civilians were left limbless and in critical condition. Epicurious’ posts are tasteless, inappropriate and extremely upsetting.

The fact that it issued an apology later that afternoon—and deleted those Tweets—was a futile attempt for forgiveness. The damage had already been done.

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As marketers, we’re faced with all kinds of challenges over the course of our company’s lifecycle: navigating through a PR crisis (just think of Carnivale cruise ships); building a strong enough corporate identity in the print, online and social worlds to compete with your competitors; and agonizing over brand strategy to make sure you have all your ducks in a row to capitalize on every opportunity.

And, over the last few months, we’ve also been tasked with how to handle tragedy—particularly when our customer bases are directly and indirectly affected.

The number-one piece of advice I can dispense: remember that at the end of every business day, we are all humans. Your CEO is just a dad/mom, a daughter/son, a friend. That difficult client you have still finds time to coach little league on Saturdays. Your customer kisses her children goodnight every night.

We are all humans. And in the wake of tragedy, we don’t want to be marketed at.

Conversely, we want to be comforted, especially by our favorite brands .We want to know that they care, that they’re thinking of us and that our safety and wellbeing are more important than their current promotion.

So marketers, when disaster like this week strikes, remove your marketing cap. That is not to say you should not be going about your business at work—responding to e-mails, making critical decisions and attending meetings. But in the social media world, take off that cap. If you had some great Tweets or Facebook posts scheduled this week, put them off. There’s a time for marketing and there is a time for compassion.

Knowing the difference can make or break your business.

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