4 Things to Remember When Marketing During a Natural Disaster

4 Things to Remember When Marketing During a Natural Disaster

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By: 321

September 19, 2017

It has been a truly awful week here in Central Florida and for all those in the path of Hurricane Irma. The storm, reaching land as a Category 5, tore through the small Caribbean island of Barbuda, the U.S. Virgin Islands and up through Florida, South Carolina and Georgia, leaving behind complete devastation and destruction.

Millions are still without power, homes and streets are flooded, and the death toll continues to rise as crews and volunteers search the affected areas. And, this was not long after Texas was devastated by Hurricane Harvey.
As a marketer, you may feel it’s insensitive to use this as an “opportunity” for a campaign. The last thing you want is to come across as exploitative when people’s livelihoods have been ravaged. 

So, what are some ways you can reach your audience even during a tragedy? Here are a few lessons you can implement when a natural disaster strikes.


In the midst of a natural disaster, empathy is key. The biggest mistake companies can make is focusing on their own financial gain and forgetting about the victims and their target audience; people who have lost their homes, cars and property. 

One of the clearest examples of this mistake was back in 2012 after Hurricane Sandy. In offering a “Sandy Sale,” American Apparel used this wording in their ads: “In case you’re bored during the storm, 20 percent off everything for the next 36 hours.” 

The problem with this kind of marketing is that it’s primarily focused on keeping the company’s revenue flowing rather than focusing on the victims of the natural disaster – when it should really be the opposite.

When companies work to satisfy customers and show concern for their needs, the money will follow. But, if they don’t, many customers will view the brand as insensitive and untrustworthy.


As Irma prepared to make landfall in Florida, the mobile app GasBuddy rallied users and gas stations to upload information to help Floridians find out where they could still get fuel. And, as a result, they acquired 350,000 downloads in a single day – more than 10 times its normal download volume.

If companies offer goods or services that are valuable during a natural disaster, they should clearly convey these benefits to customers. And, if you don’t have a much-needed service, partner with someone who does. The results are threefold – you’ll create brand awareness, bring in new customers and you’ll be providing a useful service for those in need.


Just as you should stock up on water, flashlights and non-perishable foods, always be prepared to adapt your marketing plan when you know a natural disaster is approaching. 

First, if your clients are in an area prone to natural disasters and if you work with healthcare or public utilities industries, consider having copy and creative assets prepared ahead of time. By having materials on hand you can ensure an appropriate turnaround time.

Or, depending on the industry, consider pausing your ads. Natural disasters have the potential to destroy homes and businesses and, chances are, the people who have been affected will not appreciate seeing your ads in their Facebook News Feed or search results. By being aware of natural disasters and pausing ads, you can ensure you don’t make the same mistake as this South Carolina realty company:

While it was most likely an accident made by their marketing manager or out-of-town agency, it’s one that their target audience wasn’t going to let go unnoticed. Poorly-timed mistakes like these can leave a lasting impression on your audience and affect your brand’s reputation.


Finally, when disaster strikes and people need help, don’t stand by idly. Share helpful information and include calls to action encouraging readers to donate and aid relief efforts. Organizations such as the American Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity, Americares and more are accepting donations and volunteers for Irma and Harvey Relief.

It’s not easy for communities to rebuild after disasters of this magnitude, and the way you address them in your marketing can say a lot about your company. There are ways to market during a natural disaster and still remain sensitive to those affected.

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+ 321 Creative Rebels | Tessa Henley, Senior Product Manager

Tessa Henley isn’t your typical 9-5 product manager.  She’s a Harley-gunnin’, mountain-livin’, tatted-up creative with a propensity for breaking the mold when it counts; an ad woman who flies her fashion degree in the rearview.  … Continued