This week, as Hurricane Sandy began to pound the East Coast, both American Apparel and the Gap sent out questionable messages to the public that caused the social sphere to roil.
On Monday afternoon, Oct. 29, as the storm hit New York and New Jersey, the Gap tweeted the following: "All impacted by #Sandy, stay safe! We'll be doing lots of Gap.com shopping today. How about you?"
Then, on Monday night, as the storm's winds were clocking at 60-80 mph across the region, American Apparel sent out an e-mail blast offering 20% off to customers for the next 36 hours “in case you’re bored during the storm.”
Because the storm was anything but boring, reaction online to the messages were swift, and mostly negative. People wondered how these retailers could be promoting sales while much of the Northeast was suffering. Then again, others stated that these kinds of messages were to be expected of a retailer—even during a serious, life-threatening storm—so get over it.
Granted, the Gap did back off a bit after the criticism rolled in, posting this tweet: "To all impacted by #Sandy, stay safe. Our check-in and tweet earlier were only meant to remind all to keep safe and indoors."
Lesson learned: As more and more brands practice the PR art of newsjacking—tying content and marketing to the news of the day—they must always practice a basic social media mantra: Think about the audience first and the brand second. Never the other way around.
Follow Scott Van Camp: @svancamp01