Now I know it’s probably a bit deep for a morning, but here’s a question for you – is it ever justifiable to market a product or service on the back on a human tragedy?
Some companies appear to believe it is. Microsoft caused uproar over the weekend on Twitter when it apparently used the devastating earthquake in Japan to promote its search engine, Bing. Whether this was an intentional and shameless ploy, or simply a careless oversight is as yet unknown. Microsoft alone can answer that. What is unquestionable is the sheer scale of the hate-filled reaction to the tweet.
There can’t be a single person in this world who hasn’t been moved by the devastating images of the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan last week. The sheer scale of the human tragedy is so staggering that it’s almost impossible to comprehend. Towns have been obliterated, thousands have perished and countless numbers are still missing. The world has, by and large, reacted sympathetically, with many governments pledging to do everything they can to help with the relief efforts and the subsequent rebuilding of the beleaguered country. Major corporations were quick to follow suit.
Microsoft pledged to donate up to $100 thousand dollars towards the relief efforts in Japan. Now on the face of it, that all sounds perfectly laudable, though given the size of the company, the donation does seem a little paltry: however, nothing is ever what it seems. What caused the offence was the method by which this donation would be gathered. Microsoft chose not to make an upfront donation, but merely pledged to donate just a single dollar each time the link to Bing was re-tweeted by its followers. The Twitter-sphere understandably reacted with horror and indignation, maintaining that this was wholly inappropriate and nothing but shameless marketeering.
Microsoft appears to have been surprised by the levels of anger generated by the tweet, though it’s difficult to understand why.
It’s not like there are no precedents. Fashion designer, Kenneth Cole, recently caused controversy when he tweeted about the recent unrest in Egypt, claiming that this was due to his Spring Collection going online. It was met with contempt. Cole was forced to issue a public apology stating “to everyone who was offended by my insensitive tweet about the situation in Egypt…in hindsight my attempt at humour regarding a nation liberating itself against oppression was poorly timed and absolutely inappropriate.”
The question on everyone’s lips now is will Bing be forced to do the same?