Which Comes First, Brand or Audience?

Hurricane Sandy has taken its toll on inhabitants of the East Coast, causing more damage than the potent Hurricane Isaac. Sandy is reported to have been the fiercest storm to hit the East Coast of the U.S. in years. The damage was enormous: bridges and road networks were destroyed, electricity failed in major cities, and lives and properties were also lost.

As Sandy was sweeping cities in New York and New Jersey, the media reported it from different angles. In some of the news reports, they analyzed the storm and in others, they provided tips on how people could stay safe. Even the presidential candidates suspended their political rallies to sympathize with victims of the storm. Rescuers risked their own lives to save victims. By Friday, Nov. 2 the threat of Sandy started winding down and reports served to mainly evaluate the damage caused.

In order to help victims recover from the shock, many relief efforts are under way and some corporations are stepping forward to use their brand power to assist victims of the storm: Bank of America, BNY Mellon, Chevrolet, CVS and Ford Motor Co. have indicated their willingness to donate between $50,000 to $1 million to support relief efforts of agencies such as the Red Cross and food banks that are helping those affected.

However, even though some employees lost their jobs, some retail outlets such as GAP Inc. were using the storm as an opportunity to create brand emotional appeal and promote sales for their products. Of course, Gap Inc. was under fire for posting such an ad. They started receiving negative reactions from readers. A few days later, a Tweet apologized for their comments and that they really meant to sympathize with victims. Later, they donated $1 million to relief efforts.

Whether Gap Inc. was sympathizing with victims or promoting brand sales, one thing that caught the audience’s attention was the kind of message which was seen as profiting from the storm. In times of crisis, especially of natural disaster, should PR people put their emphasis on the brand or on the audience?

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