Marketing Ethics: Sandy Brings Out the Best and Worst in Marketers

What are our Responsibilities as Marketers?

As a marketer you constantly need to make strategic and creative decisions based on rules and regulations, ROI, media channels, budget, trends, ethics and just plain old good taste vs. poor taste.

Looking at some of the companies who have newsjacked hurricane Sandy (capitalizing on the popularity of a news story to amplify your sales and marketing efforts) there are a lot of lessons to be learned when it comes to marketing ethics. Where do you really draw the line between offering help to people in need and taking advantage of the situation?

One example is American Apparel’s “Hurricane Sandy Sale – in case you’re bored during the storm” Even though it was sent out before the storm hit, and no one knew how devastating it would be, it really stirred up people’s feelings.

Of course, there are also companies that can provide a value for people in need – like Sears, who created a special page with household essentials to get through the storm.Duracell, a Proctor and Gamble brand, coordinated a disaster-relief community effort to provide people affected by Hurricane Sandy with relief through their Power Forward Community Center and Rapid Responder four-by-four trucks. They came equipped with charging stations for mobile phones and other energy starved devices, as well as computers with internet access, allowing people to use their email and social-media to let loved ones know they’re okay. The Power Forward Community Center was sent to Battery Park in Lower Manhattan, and the Rapid Responders were out on the streets of New York and New Jersey. A Facebook post announcing the impending arrival of the Power Forward Community Center to Battery Park amassed over 1300 likes in a period of 3 hours. Duracell Spokesman Win Sakdinan said, "This is what the brand is about -- empowering people through devices; connecting their families." But will we ever know the true intentions of marketers in situations like these?

What about the deals offered by group discount sites LivingSocial and Groupon, with offers for hotels and restaurants in New York and New Jersey?  Deals were still being offered during the worst of the storm for businesses in locations that were probably incapacitated. The companies will have to figure out whether it will be possible for those businesses to honor the coupons. They’ll also have to figure out how to compensate consumers if the companies can no longer carry out the offer.

Digital marketing and Social Media give consumers a platform for voicing their opinions about the actions of marketers in a public space that can affect brands. In today's world of increasing transparency where consumers have the power to make their voices heard, it's more important than ever for companies to critically evaluate business decisions and make sure that marketing efforts don't cross the line.