Brands are still finding their way in social media. At times, the rush to be relevant and “human” runs up against the boundaries of good taste especially when it comes to how marketers handle tragic occasions.
The latest case in point is the anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing. Tomorrow, the Boston Marathon will happen again, in what is sure to be an emotional day, often commemorated in social media with the hashtag #BostonStrong. The Boston Marathon is also a huge commercial endeavor, generating an estimated $175 million in economic activity.
“Boston Strong” is a brand unto itself. A play on Livestrong and the “Army Strong” tagline, it sprung into existence following the terrorist attack at the marathon finish line a year ago. The Boston Globe noted the phrase “shows just how much we have learned from the advertising world in the creation of catch phrases that “stick,” even when they are inspired by utterly unexpected events.” Indeed, there are no fewer than eight trademark applications for everything from Boston Strong beer to Boston Strong coffee already in the works. The business of America continues to be business.
Boston, nice job taking a tragedy and turning it into a marketing campaign #BostonStrong
— Chris Caruso (@RoosterEYE) April 16, 2014
There’s an argument to be made that brands need to be more human, and expressing their own solidarity is a natural way. And then there’s the idea that some apparel company shouldn’t capitalize on a tragedy to sell socks. Justin Miller, a marketing and digital strategist, has an office a couple blocks from the finish line in Boston. He is firmly in the latter camp — and shared examples of what he feels are marketers stepping over the line with #BostonStrong.
There have been a pretty significant amount of companies that are tacking on #BostonStrong or Boston Strong to their brands, and although I don’t think it’s malicious, I think it’s inappropriate because they’re using a terrorist attack to position themselves and their brand with consumers. No Under Armour, you’re not Boston Strong, you’re an apparel company. If you ask me — a marketing person who has to think about things like this for his own company — the play isn’t connecting yourself with the tragedy but acknowledging it. Instead of being Boston Strong, you should be thinking of the victims on the anniversary of the tragedy and then go back to talking about how your innovative fabric can feel light while keeping your body temperature down. It’s phony and cheap.
Here’s a selection of marketers using #BostonStrong. Weigh in with your own thoughts on which hit the mark and which miss it.
— Samuel Adams Beer (@SamuelAdamsBeer) March 26, 2014
— Matthew Eriksen (@matthew_eriksen) April 20, 2014
— Vibram FiveFingers (@Vibram5Fingers) April 20, 2014
— Altra Footwear (@AltraZeroDrop) April 20, 2014
— Zockster (@ShopZockster) April 20, 2014
— Fleet Feet Chicago (@FleetFeetChgo) April 17, 2014
— Jessica Ni Murphy (@nijessica) April 15, 2014
— Rue La La (@RueLaLa) April 20, 2014
— Gillette (@Gillette) April 15, 2014
Image via Shutterstock