November 4th, 2012 by Judith Aquino

It’s hard to believe that nearly a week has passed since Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on the East Coast. The responses to this devastating storm have ranged from crass to compassionate, advertisements included.

Known for their controversial and tongue-in-cheek ads, American Apparel became the poster child for poor taste during the storm. As Sandy laid waste to several states, American Apparel’s marketing team decided to blast an email out to its subscribers last Monday advertising a 20 percent markdown on all its clothes under the headline “in case you’re bored during the storm.”

The Gap followed in similar fashion with a tweet: “All impacted by #Sandy, stay safe! We’ll be doing lots of Gap.com shopping today. How about you?” Both retailers were derided by the Twittersphere as out of touch with some calling for a boycott of their stores.

The Gap eventually took down its tweet but American Apparel CEO Dov Charney said he had no regrets about his company’s hurricane-themed marketing push. “We’re here to sell clothing,” Charney told Bloomberg Businessweek. “I’m sleeping well at night knowing this was not a serious matter.”

Marketers tying advertising campaigns to current events is not a new concept, but the immediacy of social media has made it possible for consumers to quickly express their approval or disapproval of these efforts.

The advertisements that were received favorably were more like public service announcements. Duracell received thousands of likes and positive comments on Facebook and Twitter after setting up mobile Community Centers at affected areas where people can charge their cell phones and get free batteries. Bank of America, Chase, and other banks informed customers that they were waiving late fees for those living on the East Coast and airlines helped stranded passengers reschedule their flights after the storm without charging any fees.

Of course this won’t be the last time that some marketers get it wrong when it comes to reacting to a natural disaster, but hopefully more companies in the future will focus on building positive brand equity instead of trying to make a quick buck.

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