There's no fine line between offending people after a crisis or natural disaster and helping consumers most affected by adverse events. It's mostly a matter of common sense.
Exhibit A is Duracell. The Procter & Gamble battery brand helped energy-starved residents of the New York metropolitan area shortly after Hurricane Sandy by setting up power stations to let consumers charge their mobile devices. Considering many of Sandy's victims relied solely on their smartphones and tablets to communicate with others after the storm, Duracell provided a vital service that hundreds, if not thousands, of people trying to get in touch with loved ones certainly appreciated.
PR Play rating:
3. On the right track
The move was both sympathetic and savvy. The company helped storm victims and generated largely positive media attention – and down-and-out consumers who saw Duracell's help will likely recall that in the future when they need to buy batteries.
The initiative, of course, had its critics, but they were overshadowed for the most part by consumers who thought it was kind-hearted. Other brands such as Anheuser-Busch, which used a line at a Georgia brewery to make water instead of beer, and Tide, which helped New Jersey residents with their laundry, also stepped up to the plate to help out.
But not every brand knows how to respond to a hurricane in a way that helps customers and also themselves. Contrast the initiatives of Duracell and Anheuser-Busch with those of retailers Gap and American Apparel. “All impacted by #Sandy, stay safe! We'll be doing lots of Gap.com shopping today. How about you?” the retailer tweeted. Meanwhile, American Apparel targeted consumers in states in the direct line of Sandy with an email reading “In case you're bored during the storm, just enter SANDYSALE at checkout.” The decidedly not bored customers who were evacuating or boarding up their homes were probably not amused.
Note to brands: when disaster strikes, do what you can to help out – and avoid cheesy sale promotions. It will help both your customers and your company in the long run.