Tag Archives: terrorism

How Soon is “Too Soon?”

How soon is “too soon” for promoting tourism after a terror event? Three weeks seems to be the norm.

While it may feel unseemly to talk of commerce in the wake of a murderous event, the question bears asking. For one, tourism drives the economies of many cities, meaning that people depend on it to make a living. For another, terror attacks show no sign of stopping.

Sadly, it pays to be prepared.  I would argue that a tourism-dependent business not thinking about this issue would be like an citrus grower not having a contingency for frost.

Times Square, Veteran’s Day 2014

This week’s cowardly attacks about five miles from my home and hard by my nephew’s high school (he graduated in 2016) prompted an article in the New York Times about how terror attacks have affected New York.

However, I also happen to have my own experience with this grim calculus.

On a recent assignment for a client who conducts large-scale event marketing, I had to ask–and answer–the “how soon?” question. The client had planned an event in a large U.S. city that they would promote in email and other digital channels.  It’s telling that I can maintain client anonymity due to the prevalence of terror activity.  So, while police combed the crime scene, I felt a duty to advise the client on the go/no-go decision.

In the absence of a social listening tool to measure consumer sentiment,  I used Google Trends.  If you’re unfamiliar, Google Trends tracks the popularity of a search term according to an index where 100 is the high water mark.  Researchers can filter results by location down to the city, by time and by other factors.

Specifically, I looked at search trends for terms that included “[city name] travel” and “what to do in [city name] this weekend” for several large worldwide cities over the past several years, before and after terror attacks.  I found some interesting things:

  1. Travel interest drops after an attack but returns to seasonal normal after about three weeks on the outside.  While the number of terror attacks hasn’t reached a robust sample size, I feel confident saying that the length of time before returning to normal roughly reflects the severity of the attack.  Interest in London travel rebounded more quickly after the Westminster and London Bridge attacks than interest in Paris travel after the Bataclan attacks.  As the kids say, YMMV.
  2. Counter-intuitively, interest in travel searches increases during and immediately after the attack.  I suspect the spike comes from people en route or about to travel who want to change plans or simply determine prosaic details such as whether the airport remains open.  I would call this more of a “huh” than a marketing opportunity, of course.
  3. Locals rebound faster.  Again, sample sizes preclude me from making broad promises, but weekend-related search terms get back up to normal within a week or so.  Speaking as a jaded New Yorker, I suspect that after the initial shock wears off, people still gotta get out of the house.

In the end, I recommended that the client go ahead with the promotion as the earliest mail date would come a month after the attack.  Without a doubt, I’ve never made a sobering recommendation.

Your Campaign Needs a Kill Switch

Just a quick note before getting to part 2 of “Data’s Inigo Montoya Problem.”

Your digital campaigns need an “off” switch.  Seriously.

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Don’t have one?  Get one.

As many people did, I visited Twitter Friday night to get a sense of the tragedy in Paris as it unfolded.  Along with breaking news and some poorly-conceived instant opinions, I saw some perfectly normal tweets about marketing ideas from marketing experts I follow.  Or, rather, I saw what would have been perfectly normal tweets about marketing ideas had every person in the Western world not had Paris on his or her mind.

I won’t name names, but several marketers persisted in posting articles even as other posts listed numbers of dead and wounded.  Marketing emails continued to pour in as well, often with mundane Holiday sales.  I can only assume that the marketers in question had scheduled these posts and emails hours if not days ago.

As a marketer, you probably don’t need a complex strategy to address major tragedies (I’d make exceptions for brands that have a role to play in the aftermath of tragedies, such as telecommunications brands).  You do need an “off” switch to stop your campaigns immediately.  In addition, you need someone senior enough and sober enough to make the decision to use that off switch.  If you can’t accept the basic human decency argument, then at least pay attention to your response; I can’t believe people want to read your tweets and emails when tragedy strikes.  Your exposures have probably gone to waste in times like these.

Anyone wishing to use the argument of “if we stop marketing, then the terrorists have already won” may meet me on the field of honor at dawn.