Marketers’ best and worst instincts came out this week as many used their Internet resources to provide whatever relief they could in the aftermath of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks, and scam artists and tasteless executives reportedly swooped in via e-mail attempting capitalize on the tragedy.
Examples on the relief front include Amazon.com and Yahoo, whose executives set up links on their sites allowing people to make donations online directly to the American Red Cross.
Amazon.com replaced the usual array of products on its home page with a call for donations.
“All of us at Amazon.com are deeply saddened by the tragedies in New York City, Washington, DC, and southwestern Pennsylvania, and we extend our deepest sympathies to those affected,” the message began. Amazon.com also said it was waiving any fees and donating 100 percent of the money collected to the Red Cross. According to a counter on the site yesterday, people had donated more than $2.3 million to the charity.
CharityWave, the free online charity support service of Internet commerce transaction facilitator Wave Systems Corp., also dedicated its home page to the disaster. The New York Times’ editorial page on Sept. 13 listed CharityWave.com as the official online donation site for The New York Times 9/11 Neediest Fund. CharityWave.com also posted a link to United Way International’s Crisis Relief Fund.
“The people I’m hearing from are thanking me for giving them a way to do something,” said Cristine Cronin, director of CharityWave.com, New York. “Most people didn’t know what to do and were feeling really frustrated about that.”
Cronin added that the effort was therapeutic to her, as well. “I was grateful that I had an online emergency vehicle,” she said.
With telephone service sporadic, many in the business community turned to e-mail not only to reach colleagues, friends and loved ones but also to send general condolences and spur action from clients.
E-mail services provider Bigfoot Interactive, New York, offered clients free access to its servers.
“We want our clients to be able to use the power of e-mail to communicate to their constituents how they can help,” said Ari Osur, marketing communications manager. The company also urged clients to suspend marketing campaigns for the time being.
On the day after the attacks, The Humor Network replaced its usual ad-supported Joke-of-the-Day e-mail with an appeal for blood donations.
“As a New York company based between Times Square and The Empire State Building, yesterday was particularly difficult for all of us,” the plea said. “After our building was evacuated, like thousands of others, we spent many hours trying to track down our family and friends who work in the downtown area near the World Trade Center. … Today's joke is being replaced by an appeal to all of those who are able to give blood to help out all of the victims of yesterday's horrific events.”
Companies outside New York also turned to e-mail in an attempt to help. Omaha, NE-based direct marketing services provider WFS Direct sent 6 million e-mail messages over a two-day period asking members either to donate blood or money.
“As a concerned citizen, you may be asking how you can help the victims of the recent disaster. The answer is simple: Please give to the American Red Cross,” said the e-mail signed by the company’s husband and wife co-founders, Stephanie and Mark Healy.
WFS Direct also put links to charities on its home page at WinFreeStuff.com.
WFS is planning a similar effort for next week. “We also don't want people to forget that donations are still important next week, so our newsletter will have another call-to-action,” said Stephanie Healy in an e-mail to DM News.
In related news, online auctioneer eBay banned the trade of any items directly related to the World Trade Center or the Pentagon.
“Many of our users have asked that we take this step, and we believe that the eBay community will understand and support this decision,” said a message posted the site.
The worst side of direct marketing also surfaced in e-mails. Consumer advocacy groups warned of attempts to use the medium to profit fraudulently from the attacks.
Typical messages claimed to be part of an “Express Relief Fund” or “Victims Survivor Fund,” according to a statement issued by the anti-spam group Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial E-Mail.
One message claimed that donations would go to the Red Cross, but a link led to a Web site unrelated to the organization, CAUCE’s statement said.
What’s more, attack-related spamming began within an hour after the disaster, according to CAUCE.
“One spam promised ‘No terrorists here! Join our porn site, turn off the TV, quit watching the crap happening in the states and join our free site!’ “
CAUCE concluded its e-mail with links to official donation sites.