Hold the Click Frenzy flame emojis: Thoughtful marketing is crucial during catastrophes like bushfires

As bushfires were ravaging the country last week, brands were sending out Click Frenzy emails featuring flame emojis. As Erin Morris explains, it's this insensitivity that can impact not only a brand's reputation, but their customers, who could be in the middle of a tragedy.

Last week, thousands of Australians living in New South Wales and Queensland were facing catastrophic bushfire conditions that have taken lives, destroyed homes, wiped out 970,000 hectares of natural environment and left communities far and wide completely devastated.

Simultaneously, marketers around the country were rolling out Click Frenzy campaigns with email broadcasts, social media posts, and SMS and advertising campaigns, carefully planned and scheduled in advance. All were rolled out without consideration of what their audiences were experiencing; some even featured insensitive flame emojis.

Some Click Frenzy emails featured insensitive flame emojis in a week where bushfires ravaged the country (Supplied by Young Folks Digital)

As marketers, we work on campaigns months in advance and implement them in the blink of an eye. We’re fast-paced, hungry for results, and constantly strategising the next big thing. Our superpower is the ability to think in the future and execute in the present.

But in times of crisis, like during these fires, we need to slow down, be aware of our audiences, and think through marketing activity more carefully than usual – or else our superpower becomes our downfall.

As compassionate humans, carrying on as normal can feel strange. But as marketers, we know that, in order to comply with relentless marketing schedules and balance sheets, we must continue with commercial activities, against a backdrop of trauma and tragedy.

However, allowing campaign communications to be published during a time where serious news is unfolding can appear disrespectful or insensitive. People waiting for emergency updates or evacuation notices don’t want unsolicited text messages telling them about a sale, or emails with flame emojis in the subject line.

During times of tragedy, brands must communicate compassion carefully, as it can easily be seen as newsjacking to bolster revenues, or ‘purpose-washing’ through hashtag activism. Failure to act with awareness and empathy can be incredibly damaging.

Instagram influencer Sarah Stevenson (Sarah’s Day) received a torrent of criticism after pledging to donate $1 from from every product from her La’Bang Body skincare collaboration to the St Vincent’s Bushfire Appeal. Following the announcement, her fans turned against her, calling it a ‘cop out’ and a ‘cheap trick to boost profits’.

Today’s high tech marketing environment allows us to communicate and interact en masse, and automate and pre-schedule at the click of a button. Yet the marketing technology that empowers us to accomplish so much can also disconnect and desensitise us. We can’t allow that to happen, because the result is evaporated empathy that impacts our communications (and, therefore, our customers and our reputations).

Accordingly, it’s crucial that marketers consider the context in which communications are received, and craft strategies that are sensitive to those impacted by traumatic events.

Press pause on pre-scheduled activity, take a moment to remove the flame emojis, and add a little empathy instead.

Erin Morris is the founder and strategy director at Young Folks Digital, a digital marketing agency based on the Mornington Peninsula


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