Stop Walking On Eggshells

In a case of bad timing, Backcountry.com sent this email solicitation yesterday–a day when tornadoes ravaged communities in Alabama:

Today, the online retailer is sorry and busy backpedaling.

    Dear (insert customer’s name),

    We messed up. Yesterday, as the people of Alabama dealt with the devastating aftermath of an intensely damaging and life-taking tornado, we neglected to put a stop to the distribution of an email with the header: “Mother Nature hates you. Deal with it.” This was extremely insensitive and offensive, and we are so sorry.

    Please accept our sincerest apologies for this mistake. What was intended to be witty marketing copy may have been when we wrote these words two weeks ago, but in light of current events and the suffering of people affected by Mother Nature’s wrath, it is not only not witty, it is completely unacceptable.

    We at Backcountry.com send our deepest condolences to the families of those who lost their lives and to everyone now faced with rebuilding their homes and their communities. And again, we extend our sincerest apologies for our lack of foresight and our complete insensitivity in sending yesterday’s email.

    Sincerely,
    Jill Layfield
    CEO
    Backcountry.com

This disturbs me. Not because I can’t believe how insensitive Backcountry.com’s email copywriter is. No. I can’t believe this is a PR problem for the company. What has happened to our sense of humor in this country? What has happened to our thick skin? It seems to me Backcountry.com is the perfect brand to stand by its poorly timed headline. If anyone can say, “Come on, toughen up and lighten up,” it’s a company that sells outdoor gear.

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About David Burn

Native Nebraskan seeking the perfect pale ale in the Pacific Northwest. Copywriter and brand strategist at Bonehook. Co-founder and editor of AdPulp.

  • http://twitter.com/riverhed riverhed

    Calling the copywriter insensitive is a little far-fetched, considering this was written long before these tornadoes. That’s how most content-creation works for these things; very rarely is it written up and posted/emailed out on the fly. That said, whoever was in charge of sending that email out should have paid attention to it (whether it was the same person or not). While I have a sense of humor about it, and think it’s funny, I imagine getting this in my inbox after my house was torn to pieces or my loved ones were killed, I might be a little upset.

    You’re also missing a good portion of the story, as they’ve seen a good deal of support for being proactive and responding to the issue publicly. Being active on Twitter is helping, as people are only expressing support.

    • http://adpulp.com David Burn

      I’m not missing a good portion of the story here, I’m questioning why it’s a story at all. And I’m asking, “what happened to our sense of humor in this country?” That’s the story I’m working, as I find it much more interesting than another scared CEO feeling the need to respond to a non-issue.

  • http://www.jenmaguire.tumblr.com Jennifer Maguire Coughlin

    Hi – I can’t say I agree with your opinion, thought I understand where you are coming from. That said…Companies build trust and respect with their customers – but mistakes are bound to happen. Their response was appropriate and warranted from a PR perspective. I wrote a blog about it today: http://ow.ly/4Jkn1

  • HighJive

    Well, I’m one of the first to criticize insensitivity, but I’m sorta with David on this one. There’s a big difference between being insensitive and being the victim of poor timing. For example, Gilbert Gottfried and 50 Cent making jokes about the disaster in Japan shortly after it happened is insensitive and deserving of condemnation. But to blast someone for an ad that would be considered cool at any other time is a tad over-sensitive. Going back to Gottried/Fiddy, they knowingly made light of a tragedy. Does anyone believe for a second that the copywriter/designer of this email conspired to capitalize on the disasters? Seems like the company started apologizing before anyone even complained. And it actually feels like they’re now taking advantage of things to make themselves look better than they are. Why couldn’t they have simply pulled the ad and quietly went about their business? BTW, the ad is a poor man’s version of Columbia Sportswear — and that’s worth complaining about.

  • HighJive

    Well, I’m one of the first to criticize insensitivity, but I’m sorta with David on this one. There’s a big difference between being insensitive and being the victim of poor timing. For example, Gilbert Gottfried and 50 Cent making jokes about the disaster in Japan shortly after it happened is insensitive and deserving of condemnation. But to blast someone for an ad that would be considered cool at any other time is a tad over-sensitive. Going back to Gottried/Fiddy, they knowingly made light of a tragedy. Does anyone believe for a second that the copywriter/designer of this email conspired to capitalize on the disasters? Seems like the company started apologizing before anyone even complained. And it actually feels like they’re now taking advantage of things to make themselves look better than they are. Why couldn’t they have simply pulled the ad and quietly went about their business? BTW, the ad is a poor man’s version of Columbia Sportswear — and that’s worth complaining about.

    • GANDGAS

      @43a74a20bc7f0459710dbe93a7b0e1fe:disqus

      You can’t “pull” and email blast. All of the emails get sent at once. One goes, the rest go. Read the article before commenting. You’ll be more likely to make a good point if you think before you speak.

      • HighJive

        Sorry, GANDGAS. Comments are not perfect, as we don’t have
        the benefit of an editor like you to pre-read stuff. Meant to say they could
        stop future blasts. Plus, we all know the overwhelming majority of emails
        aren’t read or even opened anyway. The main point of the original comment is that the
        advertiser overreacted, and ultimately seems to be trying to capitalize on
        their “misfortune.”

  • http://www.jordanchenard.com Jordan Chénard

    I think HighJive has just packed in 1 sentence the essence of the situation here: “There’s a big difference between being insensitive and being the victim of poor timing.”

    Actually, the company didn’t have to react to this bad timing… Everybody would know that an advertising campaign is always planned days and week before the release so it’s impossible to anticipate what could happen the same day.

    At least, this issue could’ve help this campaign to spread easily in the office. “Hey dude… Did you receive the mailing from Backcountry… It’s wrong but I must admit… this bad timing is kind of funny.”

    Proactivity is a good thing but sometime, playing the “let’s see what happen” game is a much better strategy.

  • http://twitter.com/MediaFiche MediaFiche

    Thick skin was replaced with knee-jerk reaction a long time ago. Stuff like this ultimately compromises creativity in the end because less and less, people are willing to take chances for the fear of repercussion. Not that this example totally falls under that since it was probably written in advance, but still.