This last Thursday marked the 13th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Everyone wanted to show their patriotism, and so people turned to one of the most popular communication avenues: Social Media. Facebook and Twitter feeds were filled with posts from friends with images of the twin towers, American flags, and personal stories in an effort to commemorate the lives that were lost.
But what happens when a company tries to be a part of that conversation?
Countless brands headed to Twitter in an effort to join consumers across the country in showing their patriotism and support. Or at least… that was their intention. While some brands managed to demonstrate pride in their country, the majority of these “good intentioned” tweets came off as opportunistic – as if the anniversary of 9/11 was their chance to make an impression on consumers and boost their brand’s revenue.
The tweets that were well-received by consumers were from brands that left their logo and personal selling out of the message, such as a simple tweet from WalMart of the New York skyline with the caption “Always Remember.” Unfortunately, some brands went beyond the simple, humble message and tied their product into the 9/11 tragedy or even offered discounts in honor of the anniversary. For instance, CVS pharmacy posted a #neverforget tweet with an image of the New York skyline, which would have likely been much more acceptable had they not stuck their CVS logo on the bottom right hand corner. And then some companies were just straight up insensitive. For example, a southern tie company called Tied to the South asked users to retweet their 9/11 image for every death that occurred during the 9/11 attacks.
Why such a negative response from consumers? After all, in today’s market brands are a living, breathing entity with their own unique personality, shouldn’t they get a say? Apparently, according to influential Internet blogger Sean Bonner, the answer is no: “Brands are not people. Brands do not have emotions or memories or condolences or heartbreak. People have those things, and when a brand tries to jump into that conversation, it’s marketing” (AdWeek 2014).
One part of the problem may be with the fact that these messages do not always come off as genuine. Brands that connect best with their consumers are those that are authentic and transparent with their messaging. Forcing your brand to align with the anniversary of 9/11, like Build-a-Bear workshop did when they posted a photo of a bear in army fatigues, may not seem like the most honest of gestures. Thus leading consumers to the conclusion that these brands are simply taking advantage of a national tragedy to promote their own company.
Consumer engagement is a hot topic for marketers across the country. With the rise of social media, it is easier than ever before to interact one on one with the consumer. According to The New Rules of Marketing & PR by David Scott, the days of one-way interruption are over, and web marketing is about delivering useful content at “just the precise moment a buyer needs it.” However, based off the vocal backlash against the companies whose tweets ultimately failed, it’s apparent that not all marketers understand the appropriate way to utilize these communication channels.
In today’s marketplace, it is imperative that marketers are responsible and respectful with their messaging. If brands were simply trying to show their respect, the best thing they could have done would be to take a step back, and let consumers reflect and heal together without the promise of 20% off Bikram Yoga classes.
What do you think? Is there a way for brands to talk about current events, national tragedies in particular? Or is it best for them, and their brand, to stay out of the conversation?
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