Thursday, December 20, 2012

Capitalizing on a Tragedy to Promote Your Business: Why It's Not Okay

I think you pretty much have to be hiding under a rock to have missed what happened this past week in Newtown, CT. It sparked a lot of conversation and thoughts on the very large and (depending on your point of view, very relevant) matters of social responsibility, responsible gun ownership, the state of mental health care, parenting and more. I will not be sharing my opinions on these things here. This is not the venue for that, and I do not feel that espousing my opinions on these matters in this manner will help - if I feel strongly about something, I get out and advocate and help with those matters.

What I'm going to speak about today is a little more relevant, since this is a business blog: using tragedy to capitalize for your own gain. Between the "Tragicrafting" purse featured on Regretsy and what I witnessed today on a local Facebook group for buying/selling/trading in my local area, I feel the need to speak up. Does this make me a hypocrite since this is mostly a business blog? I don't feel so. I'm not trying to sell you anything today. I'm not trying to bolster my brand or promote myself. I saw something wrong and I felt the need to speak out.

Today, I saw this:

Even though it's horrific, I felt the need to blot out identifying information to protect the entrepreneur's identity. 

And I was instantly sick of my stomach. And I'm not going to hide or sugar-coat my feelings on things like "tragicrafting" or "tragvertising". I'm not speaking of well-meaning individuals who are using their time, talent and money to make a donation to the victims of the Newtown, CT shooting or to any causes relevant to, or pertaining to, the prevention of this kind of thing in the future. I think we could all stand to show a little more generosity toward those who need our help - be it using your time, skills, wallet or even providing a listening ear to someone in crisis.

I'm talking about people like the business owner above who are using this as a poorly-worded, ill-timed excuse to hawk their goods and services. I find it appalling. For one thing, you're ruining your image. I certainly would not do business with someone who is so shamelessly using the ruination of others for their own gain. Then again, within minutes of that post going up on my local buy/sell/trade community, people were already asking the business owner's rates. And that makes me feel even sicker.

27 people lost their lives in Newtown Connecticut. 27 people are dead. That, in my book, qualifies as a Big Deal. By using this as an opportunity to try and further your brand or business, you're trivializing the loss of 27 lives. I can't help but think that if you can so easily incorporate that into your business tactics, you really don't understand the value of a life, let alone the void left behind when even one life is loss...multiplied by 27.

As if those two points weren't enough to pluck the strings of your conscience, the wording of the "ad" (I'm sorry, I have to put it in quotation marks. I just can't stomach it otherwise) is meant to guilt the reader into buying this person's product or services. It's not a case of "I feel so sorry for those that lost their lives and it made me think about my own life and children and how I capture their lives and memories and would like to take a minute to offer my services because this tragedy affected me and I would like to share my skills or talents." That's not the pathos this seller is utilizing.

The logos of this image is essentially "buy my stuff or you'll regret it if and when your kids die, too." And the rhetorical image of a small child asking Santa Clause if he brought "mommy" a gift card for this person's goods or services? Totally destroys the ethical credibility of this person for me and for many others. It's guilt, plain and simple. And while we're confronted by guilt in advertising every day, this brings it to a whole different level. It's low, it's dirty and it's sickening.

I don't know what else I can say about this without going into politics or frothing at the mouth. So I'll keep it short and (bitter)sweet.

If you're a business owner, I'm asking you today to please, for the kindness of others, refrain from using things like this to try and enhance your brand or company. If you're a buyer, client or consumer, I'm asking you to please not support businesses that do this. There are many things you can do to help during times of tragedy, and one is to act with social responsibility: Call out the sellers and business owners that do this. Refuse to buy into their thoughtless, careless and heartless attempt to put money in their own pockets by using a tragedy as an excuse to sell goods or services. Make it known that you are NOT okay with the commercialization of wholesale slaughter of innocent lives. 

Update: When called out on it, this local businessperson did not respond in a way anywhere close to apologetic, remorseful. He/she does not seem to even recognize that he/she did anything wrong. Seriously folks, take a little responsibility. 


  1. You seriously have to out this person, especially since you gave him an opportunity to respond.

    Your blog is a public post, so I took the liberty to share this on Google+ where at least a few thousand of my Circlers will see it. One of the best-known artists there, breakout musician Daria Musk, who does all sorts of shared concerts there, is herself from Newtown. She is doing benefit work for them. A lot of people follow her and thus the tragedy hit even closer to home.

    Hoping to awake the crowdsourced shaming of this person.

  2. Good for you for speaking out.

  3. I cannot fathom it. I simply cannot grasp how anyone so cruel, so heartless, so conniving and self-centered could ever exist. The fact that the business did not even acknowledge they were doing wrong and choose to argue and debate it tells me they are probably too blind to realize just how wretched their actions are.