Donald W. Reynolds National Center For Business Journalism

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Tragedies that spawn merchandise and consumer goods

April 29, 2013

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We’ve seen this before, but it always raises eyebrows when it happens:  companies and entrepreneurs rushing to market with merchandise inspired by tragic events.

Remember the t-shirts that cropped up after the fatal Costa Concordia cruise-ship grounding, and the Japanese tsunami relief gifts?  Of course, the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks inspired items ranging from commemorative coins to flag pins to wine and even knives, as this Huffington Post article points out.

And now, two weeks after the Boston marathon bombings, related merchandise is up for sale.

Reports say Boston-related sports merchandise and other “Beantown” gear are in hot demand following the terrorist attack, and that items ranging from marathon medals to copies of Boston newspapers to decals and stickers flashed up onto eBay right after the explosions occurred.

Obviously, you can localize this story by checking with your area’s sporting goods stores, eBay sellers and the like to see if they’ve seen any uptick in sales spawned by consumers’ desire to honor or show solidarity with Boston residents, first responders and so on.   (Find eBay sellers by searching on terms like “Boston” and refining the search by ZIP code.)   And if any of your locale’s big corporations have donated to the relief fund, or send goods in kind, check in to see if they have any plans for tribute merchandise or packaging as the Yankee Candle company has done.  You can also look for cottage industries on Zazzle, CafePress and similar outlets to see who’s creating T-shirts and other goods with Boston themes.

I’d also see it as a good peg for a marketing story in general.  How does it benefit a company to be associated with a negative event?  People who aren’t aware that Yankee Candle is donating Boston Strong proceeds might take umbrage, for example.  What are the pros and cons from a branding, image or marketing standpoint of joining in mass mourning or tributes to tragedies?   And which tragedies tend to spawn consumer goods vs. others?  I did not, for example, find T-shirts and other goods related to the West, Texas fertilizer plant explosion, though it was the more deadly of the two events that week.  Nor did the Newtown school shooting generate candle scents and other items.  It would be interesting – especially in light up upcoming patriotic holidays like Memorial Day and the Fourth of July – to talk with marketing experts about the thresholds of good taste, etc. that lead to corporate decision-making in times of tragedy.

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