Marketers Please Stop Using Tragedy to Promote Yourself

Yesterday we all watched in horror as the beautiful Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris burned. The world gathered around their computers, their phones, their television screens, to share in this horrific experience.

I’ve traveled to Paris twice in the last decade, and I quickly rooted through my photos to share my memories in solidarity. I even changed my profile picture and cover photo on my personal Facebook page to the beautiful 850 year old cathedral as a tribute and to share my collective grief.

I kept up with the news all day, desperately hoping they’d be able to save it. As I scrolled through my own travel account on Instagram I noticed that lots of folks were doing the same, and almost every other photo was of the cathedral, either from the past, or live from Paris as it burned. Then I started to notice something.

Some of these Instagram posts were sponsored.

Why? I understand sharing your memories of the cathedral, pictures, ideas, thoughts, so we can all mourn together the collective loss. But sponsored? Sponsored posts are advertisements, designed to increase clicks to your website, engagement, or gain new followers. They are designed to convert. What would be the reason to sponsor these, other than a thinly veiled attempt at using a tragedy to promote yourself?

Marketers are guilty of this a lot actually. A famous, beloved person dies? Here come the brand social media posts. Take Prince’s untimely death in 2016. Brands immediately started posting tributes, often with a contrived connection to their own brand, as if somehow they were part of the his legacy. Adweek called them out in this article soon after.

Here’s an example from 3M that didn’t feel right. It’s too much about the brand. Ok it’s purple, but other than that what is the connection between 3M and Prince?

Chevrolet got it right. His song, Little Red Corvette, was a classic and this message tied in perfectly.

But I was saddened to see these sponsored Instagram posts. I have nothing against sharing your memories. It’s a natural thing to do when a tragedy hits, and a place as iconic as Notre Dame Cathedral is going to be one that resonates in our collective conscious. Whether you are a religious person or a world traveler or just a citizen of our earth, you’re going to feel connected to that iconic structure.

But to pay money to increase your reach in order to gain likes or followers? Maybe we just shouldn’t.

Instead, let’s donate that money to help Paris rebuild. Let’s share how we can all help.

If you’d like to help, here’s where you can donate to rebuild the Notre Dame Cathedral.

*As always, before donating check to make sure the fundraiser is legitimate. Just as there are marketers that will try to benefit from this tragedy, there are also people who will set up fake fundraisers to similarly benefit. Use caution and do your research.


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