Did Ford Dealer Fumble Tornado Relief Effort?

by PR Coach on April 29, 2011

Marketing & disasters are a dangerous mix

Marketing & disasters are a dangerous mix

Recent tornadoes have devastated residents in the southern US. Families, friends and neighbors have suffered terrible losses. And yet among the tragedies, there are heartwarming stories of help, support and community.

But it seems marketers can’t get it right when it comes to mixing marketing with disaster relief.

A reader of this blog pointed me to the Facebook page (below) for an Alabama Ford dealership.

He felt they made a mistake similar to Bing during its Twitter fundraising for Japanese earthquake relief. I reported on that in a recent blog post.

“As an Alabamian with friends, family and neighbors left homeless and more than 200 dead in our state, I find this disgusting. I appreciate their attempt at charity but their tactless self-promotional means of doing so is shameful and reprehensible,” he wrote.

From afar, I  applaud the effort. But it illustrates how sometimes marketing can appear insensitive and self-serving during a disaster.  The results may even be offensive to some or impact your reputation with others.

The Ford dealer’s Facebook Wall has attracted mostly positive local support but has also generated some negative responses and a few internet “haters.” It’s the execution that’s badly handled. Tying Facebook “Likes” to disaster relief is simply wrong.

Several responses showed further insensitivity as my colleague reported, “They took a picture of the check and posted it on their [Facebook] page’s wall. That went beyond arrogant and reprehensible.”

Other businesses such as Home Depot, U-Haul, Piedmont Natural Gas and Regions Bank are also trying to help.  Wild Lemon Clothing Co is pledging proceeds from T-shirt sales to support Alabama relief. Churches, charities, students and community groups are all mobilizing. Even the New York Yankees have donated $500,000 to relief efforts.

Their efforts are all sincere. But think how much better if the dealership or clothing company had simply donated instead of tying it to sales or “Likes” and clicks?

Once again, the lesson is clear. Don’t mix “marketing” with disaster and relief efforts. Human tragedies demand extra care, serious attention and they deserve respect.

If you’re a marketing manager, think very carefully how your company will be perceived and ways you can help a cause without negative outcomes. The devil is always in the details.

That said, please support local and regional businesses and volunteer organizations who are trying to assist their neighbors. Or consider donating to the Red Cross and other legitimate charities as it helps residents recover from this terrible disaster.

What are your thoughts? Did this Ford dealer do right or should it have done things differently? Can you mix marketing with disaster relief without bad PR? Your comment are welcome.

Photo Credit: Brandon Cripps via Flickr

Author:  Jeff Domansky is Editor, The PR Coach

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