A nation of hockey towns is grieving. The fatal collision of the Humboldt Broncos team bus, cutting short 16 lives, has elicited responses as varied as the country itself. The tributes have been deeply moving: flags at half-mast; heartfelt songs; Niagara Falls awash in green and gold. And of course, thousands of hockey sticks leaning on porches, left out in solidarity and grief.
Countless individuals, communities and businesses have sought concrete ways to help. A Saskatoon blood clinic was overwhelmed with donors. PEI is reporting a massive spike in organ donor registrations, apparently inspired by Logan Boulet, whose organs could save six lives. And thousands donated to a GoFundMe campaign benefitting the team and families, which by Monday had become the platform’s most successful campaign in Canada, ever.
There is no single “right” way to respond to a tragedy. But there is a wrong way. And a few folks found it this week.
Tim Hortons navigated a misstep when a franchisee in Fall River, N.S., sold doughnuts in team colours “to honour the Humboldt Broncos” without initially intending to donate the proceeds to the crash victims, the StarMetro Halifax reported.
Tim Hortons subsequently said the franchise owner had made a personal donation and clarified doughnut sales would support the team, along with a broader fundraising campaign. Its community efforts, including food and drink for families and first responders, have been overshadowed by the blunder, along with general cynicism over the company’s desperation to rehabilitate its “Canadian” image.
Normally, charitable donations come with a public relations bump. And there’s no reason they shouldn’t, if the gesture is sincere. Good corporate citizenship is increasingly valued by consumers. But the appearance of chasing publicity can backfire badly.
Most of the major corporate donors to the GoFundMe campaign gave generously without making a big social media splash. Those that did used their online reach to invite their followers to join them in supporting the fund. Bauer even temporarily changed the welcome page of its corporate website, putting up a team photo of the Broncos and a link to the campaign. (The company did not immediately respond whether it still considered this an urgent need once the campaign had exceeded its goal.)
It’s good business to support the community that supports your business. But most corporate gestures seem motivated by a genuine desire to help, such as an airline committing larger aircraft to its Saskatoon routes to accommodate those who needed to get to Humboldt, and a hotel chain offering a free night’s stay to family members who needed to be close to the hospital.
Promoting such offers with the hashtag #HumboldtStrong is a legitimate social media tactic to help their message reach their target demographic.
Other service providers used #HumboldtStrong to promote fundraisers based on whatever they had to offer: proceeds from meals served; yoga classes offered by donation; cupcake fundraisers. These are businesses pulling together in the best tradition of community.
It was less heartwarming to see “Humboldt Strong” used to promote an east coast radio station, which had created a playlist of “15 songs for mourning.” The page states music “can have the power to heal or support.” But using a bereaved community as an online marketing ploy reduces a tragedy to a listicle.
There were other missteps – notably, a ladies apparel company posting “Humboldt in our Hearts” – a nice sentiment, but for the company logo in the corner.
These are likely innocent mistakes. Many retailers use a standard template for their online marketing to ensure brand consistency. But it’s clumsy. We should avoid the appearance of capitalizing on tragedy.
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