Avoiding Marketing Fails During the Coronavirus Crisis

Sarah Malcolm
I have seen a lot of brands get really excited on ways to take the spotlight when something bad happens like Hurricane Sandy, the protests in Egypt, and 9/11. Now that the Coronavirus is here, I want to remind people how trying to profit off a horrible situation can go really wrong.

I have seen a lot of brands get really excited on ways to take the spotlight when something bad happens like Hurricane Sandy, the protests in Egypt, and 9/11. Now that the Coronavirus is here, I want to remind people how trying to profit off a horrible situation can go really wrong. 

Here are a few examples of what not to do to ruin your brand reputation. 

1. The Kenneth Cole and The Riots in Cairo

In 2011, Kenneth Cole thought it was a great idea to send out a tweet portraying the protests in Egypt as excitement over their new spring collection. The tweet read, “Millions are in an uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online at http://bit.ly/KCairo -KC”.  

Criticism poured in, they took down the tweet, and Kenneth Cole publicly apologized stating, “I apologize to everyone who was offended by my insensitive tweet about the situation in Egypt. I’ve dedicated my life to raising awareness about serious social issues, and in hindsight my attempt at humor regarding a nation liberating themselves against oppression was poorly timed and absolutely inappropriate.” 

2. American Apparel and Hurricane Sandy

Shortly after Hurricane Sandy made landfall and millions were affected, a couple of retailers thought, “Hmm, while folks are stuck at home, maybe we should create a Hurricane Sandy sale and take advantage of this trendy tragedy.” American Apparel emailed customers about a Hurricane Sandy 20% sale and to use the code SANDYSALE at checkout. As you can imagine, outrage from customers was not the reaction they were hoping for. 



3. The Gap and Hurricane Sandy

American Apparel was not alone in thinking of generating some extra dollars from this tragedy. The Gap sent out a tweet to stay safe, but in the same tweet asked folks if they would be shopping on gap.com. People didn’t take that well. Backlash began.The Gap deleted the tweet and quickly apologized.


4. Jonathon Adler and Hurricane Sandy

Jonathon Adler had a “Storm Our Site Sale” to enter the code “SANDY” at checkout to get free shipping. Again, customers were upset and sentiment towards the Jonathon Adler brand was compromised. 


5. Urban Outfitters and Hurricane Sandy

Urban Outfitters also offered free shipping to help those in need. Again, the same negative reaction from their customers and it was a bad look for their brand.


6. AT&T and September 11th

AT&T thought it was cool to do some product placement on the 12th anniversary of the September 11 attacks. They quickly deleted the tweet and apologized, “We apologize to anyone who felt our post was in poor taste. The image was solely meant to pay respect to those affected by the 9/11 tragedy."


I think it’s good to take a look back and understand what not to do. The lesson to take away from this is when something bad happens, don’t take it as an opportunity to promote or get a quick buck. Brand reputation is much more valuable. If it makes sense as a brand to say, “We hope you are okay,” make sure it comes from a genuine place because the internet will eat you up. 

The good news is brands who make mistakes for the most part bounce back, but these self indulgent marketing tactics that create negative attention are avoidable. 





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