Hey Brands, Just Because There Is No Manual Doesn’t Mean There Are No Rules

To paraphrase Thomas Paine, “These are the times that try brand’s souls.” 

Way back in 2012, in the height of what would go on to become one of the worst storms in American history — Hurricane Sandy — the Einsteins at American Apparel decided it would the ideal time to blast out an email — no not an email in which they expressed their concerns for the health and safety of all in the path of the storm.

Oh heavens no. This email was… well see for yourself in case you either forgot this or missed it the first time.

Yes sir, that’s some fine marketing there, kids. Needless to say the reaction, especially on Twitter, was swift and harsh. Here’s just a small sample:

The above, of course, is just one example of how brands should NOT operate during a crisis.

Unchartered Territory

But the above, for as abhorrent as it was, dealt with a crisis that did not last nor linger. As bad and catastrophic as hurricanes and other natural disasters, these will eventually pass and some sense of normalcy will at some point, return.

However these are not normal times; far from it. Painfully far from it. These are times that no one on the planet has ever dealt with before. So there is no rule book; no manual; no how-to guide that brands the world over can refer to for guidance.

So perhaps then it’s understandable and excusable for so many brands to be operating so poorly and ineptly during these very surreal times, yes? I mean it’s not their fault, right? No one is there to tell them what to do because no one has been through anything like this before so all’s fair.

There are no shortage of both sides of the aisle, if you will. The aisles being divided by the brands who get it and the brands who don’t. There is no shortage of stories about either. I just Googled “brands coronavirus” a second ago and as you can see, there’s lots to choose from.

I have my own personal faves on both sides of that aisle as I’m sure you do as well.

Defining Moment

The other day billionaire and Shark Mark Cuban said something I think is absolutely worth repeating. He was answering a question that dealt with the idea of sending employees back to work too soon during the coronavirus pandemic.

“How companies respond to that very question is going to define their brand for decades. If you rushed in and somebody got sick, you were that company. If you didn’t take care of your employees or stakeholders and put them first, you were that company.”

Ten days ago, which is an absolute eternity in today’s world, Mark Ritson wrote a piece for Marketing Week entitled Marketing in the time of Covid-19. This is  a must read. Among the many gems is this:

“The first lesson of the coronavirus crisis that now engulfs us is to shut the fuck up and let the experts guide us. I am well aware at this point that expertise from the medical fraternity or our so-called political leaders seems in short supply. But that does not justify marketers feeling as if they have some god given right to share their thoughts or solutions or recommendations. We are marketers, for fuck’s sake, and most of us aren’t even any good at that. Let’s leave the epidemiology to the professionals.”

Apparently many brands did not heed Ritson’s mandate. Case in point, Allianz. Now I don’t mean to pick on them for there are, unfortunately no shortage of examples of brands who are so not getting it right now.

Some of you in fact may look at this and wonder what’s so wrong with it? What’s wrong with it is the subhead. Why in the world would you feel the need to include this?

“Stand against fear?”

“Dare to have courage?” 

Are you kidding me?

For the love of…

All this brand needed to do was release the ad WITHOUT the subhead and it would have been perfection. But by including the subhead they insulted the public’s intelligence…. big time. This is a problem by the way — brands insulting we consumer’s intelligence that stretches way above and beyond just this current world we find ourselves in — but that’s another story for another time.

Just Because There Is No Manual Doesn’t Mean There Are No Rules

As I said before, this is un-chartered waters we’re in. I get that. I truly do. But having said that, there has to be some semblance of sense, decency, respect and on and on that must come into play here.


Is it asking too much for brands to stop and think before they blast out an email during a killer storm? Is it too much for the human beings behind these same brands to stop and think before running ad that is so obviously distasteful all to make a buck?

Is it?

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