Jeff comments on how brands respond to a disaster in USA Today…
Businesses Step Up to Aid Victims of Superstorm Sandy
by Laura Petrecca
November 3. 2012 – Duracell’s “Power Forward” centers give Hurricane Sandy’s electricity-less victims the chance to charge phones, as well as to grab free batteries for flashlights.
Anheuser-Busch switched a line at its Cartersville, Ga., brewery from beer to potable water to produce more than a million cans of emergency drinking water for those in need.
Lakeside Fitness Club in Oakland, N.J., offered everyone in the community warm showers, hot coffee and the ability to get some stress relief with a workout.
Businesses big and small have rallied to help East Coast residents cope with the loss of heat, light, water and even their patience in the wake of Superstorm Sandy’s wrath.
Retailers have let scores of squatters use their wireless service and electrical outlets. Gyms opened their doors — and their shower stalls — to non-members. Banks will refund late fees and ATM use charges. And big corporations, as well as small mom-and-pop shops, have pledged millions to relief causes.
Making the gym amenities available to all was “about doing whatever little thing we could to help people get through this disaster,” says Lakeside Fitness Club co-owner Peter Costello. “We are a family-owned club and we see everyone as part of our family whether they are a member or not.”
In Manhattan, small dessert business Chloe’s Soft Serve Fruit Co. handed out free hot apple cider to residents and others rattled by the storm.
“It was a no brainer in terms of offering help,” says Chloe’s co-founder Chloe Epstein. “We just had to put our heads together to figure out the quickest, most effective way to have an impact in even a small way.”
The company didn’t have power in their flagship store, so they prepared the cider at an uptown store and shipped it out in a company-branded food truck to an area where there was no power.
“We sent it down to warm up and cheer up our Union Square neighbors,” Epsetin says.
Anheuser-Busch, albeit it on a much larger level, also responded to its community’s needs, says Margarita Flores, the brewer’s vice president of community affairs.
The company keeps some canned water in supply for emergency situations, but quickly ramped up production late last week to help the scores of people who needed clean drinking water. It sent truckloads of that emergency water to disaster recovery areas in West Virginia, New York and New Jersey.
Anheuser-Busch not only wants to support customers affected by the storm, but it also wants to help company employees in hard-hit areas, says Flores.
“It’s good business and it’s good to give back to the community,” she says.
Another business behemoth, Procter & Gamble, also jumped in to help Sandy victims. Its Duracell brand set up power stations that let folks charge their devices. And P&G’s Tide Loads of Hope truck, which provides laundry services for residents and recovery workers, arrived in Eatontown, N.J., Saturday morning. The Tide team collected more than 300 loads of laundry in the first two hours alone.
Many companies across the country see this post-Storm recovery time as “an opportunity to be flexible and (show) values that go beyond what they deliver every day,” says Allen Adamson, managing director at branding firm Landor Associates . “It provides an opportunity (for companies) to stand up and say ‘I can do good.'”
The trick, he says, is to do it in an authentic way.
“Lot of brands are stepping up and trying to show that they are good citizens and willing to help,” he says, but it has to be “relevant and meaningful.”
The Tide Loads of Hope truck, which provides laundry services for residents and recovery workers, arrived Saturday morning at the Lowe’s in Eatontown, N.J. The team collected more than 300 loads of laundry in the first two hours.
And it doesn’t take million-dollar donations to make a difference. Word of many small, but significant good deeds from businesses spread fast on social media after the storm.
Staten Island resident Diane DiResta raved on Facebook about the generosity of a local spa and yoga studio.
“I’m at a Staten Island business Relax on Cloud Nine,” DiResta posted on Friday. “The CEO, Doreen Zayer, is offering Internet, tea, phone charging and a shower to residents. It’s a blessing to have an Internet connection for a few hours. Thank you Doreen for your gift to the community.”
Businesses that don’t come across as sincere in their aid efforts — and appear to be capitalizing on a tragic situation — can raise consumer ire, warns branding expert Jeff Swystun.
“If it seems forced, they’ll pay the price,” he says. “There will be backlash (from) existing customers as well as though social media.”
Already, there have been some “head-scratching moves” by brands in response to Hurricane Sandy, which left at least 105 people dead, destroyed homes and left millions without power.
For instance, an ad from decorating retailer Jonathan Adler that said “storm our site” and invited consumers to enter the
discount code “Sandy” for a sale price could come across as insensitive, says Swystun, who saw that ad in a roundup called “brand fails exploiting Hurricane Sandy” on the Business Insider website.
American Apparel and Gap were also criticized on social media for Sandy-related promotions, says ad trade publication Adweek.
American Apparel sent an email blast Monday night offering discounts for those “bored during the storm.” The Gap tweeted that it wanted folks to to stay safe during the storm — and at the same time, promoted its shopping website.
“Any brand that responds to a natural disaster has to examine its own motivations,” Swystun says. “If they are authentic but make a mistake in how they help, there is a better chance they will be forgiven. If it is self serving, then people will react negatively and share that information with lightning speed and far reach.”