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Brands That Surged (and Brands That Sank) After Hurricane Sandy

by Gregg Lipman  |  
December 12, 2012
  |  2,966 views

When Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast on October 29, millions of people—myself included—found themselves without electricity, heat, and water. In fact, more than a month later, some residents of New York and New Jersey are still struggling to get back to their normal daily lives.

But just a few days after the storm, it seemed that nearly all companies had gone back to business as usual—if their promotional emails were any indication. Unfortunately, many of those emails were memorable in that they pretty much ignored the tragedy around them.

Just who are the decision-makers who approved insensitive messages in the days that followed the massive destruction, and did they realize just what had happened on the East Coast?

Retailers Ralph Lauren, Anthropologie, and Urban Outfitters, among others, encouraged email recipients to shop their sites, without so much as acknowledging what had happened. How could anyone shop when they didn't even have running water, heat, or that lifeline to the outside world, the Internet? When so many people were without food, clothing—homes!

But some brands stepped up during the storm by offering genuinely sympathetic—and in the case of East Coast brands, empathetic—brand messaging that showed the people they were "one of us" and therefore worthy of our loyalty.


West Elm, for example, headquartered in the Sandy-damaged neighborhood of Dumbo, Brooklyn, made it clear that it, too, was hurt by the storm. Residents of the Rockaways rejoiced when several Target trucks pulled up filled with everything from bottled water to cleaning supplies. And Chase and American Express repeatedly offered financial and emotional support during the trying times.


So, here is our list for brands that "surged" and brands that "sank," at least in many New Yorkers' opinions, over the course of the past weeks.


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Gregg Lipman is a founding partner of CBX, an independent full-service branding firm providing clients with a range of strategic and creative services. He is responsible for the overall direction and management of CBX's New York office.

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  • by Bill Walker Wed Dec 12, 2012 via web

    So an article celebrating and criticizing brands for how they acted after a serious deluge uses water metaphors in its headline and runs a very incomplete story - less than 2 months after the event? Wow.

    First, on incompleteness, Macy's also did this, which didn't get a mention here (taken from their Facebook page): "As the effects of Hurricane Sandy continue to unfold, we're in this together and Macy's wants to help. Now through November 30th, simply make a donation of $1 or more at any register and we will match it dollar-for-dollar up to $500,000. All funds donated will be directed to the American Red Cross and will assist the victims of this devastating storm."

    Second, although the brands in the "sank" category may have misstepped, they hardly sank as a result of these actions. I can support giving these brands a word of caution, but your metaphors are out of line.

    This article is simply overblown.

  • by Robin Wed Dec 12, 2012 via web

    Wells Fargo also did a great job of waiving all ATM fees for its East Coast customers during the days and even weeks surrounding Hurrican Sandy. Putting the consumer's well-being before the company's profits will always resonate louder and therefore give the brand a longer-lasting positive brand association than a "Hurrican Flash Sale" poster will.
    Not sure what Urban Outfitters and Macy's were thinking.

  • by Julia Thu Dec 13, 2012 via web

    I completely agree with this piece. I was disgusted with emails like the one Urban Outfitters sent. Companies/Marketing Communications need to be [more] sensitive to what is going on in the world. If companies had time to change their messaging to include Hurricane Sandy, then they had time to change the plan of communication to something heartfelt and not a sales call.

  • by Arthur Catalanello Sat Dec 15, 2012 via web

    I enjoyed your article. I wrote a similar post shortly after Sandy, inspired by many negative examples I was seeing. You can read it here: http://wp.me/p1LHj0-iH

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