Brand Reactions: The Right (and Wrong) Way to Respond to a Disaster

By Melissa Duko, September 05, 2017

When a disaster strikes, it can serve as an opportunity for brands to give back to their customers and the community. But how a brand gives back can have a positive or negative impact on the brand’s reputation.

During Hurricane Harvey and the subsequent flooding that followed, some brands jumped into action the right way, while others stumbled. Here’s what we can learn from each of their brand reactions.  

Positive: Anheuser-Busch Makes Drinking Water

During trying times like these, many people would love to crack open an ice cold beer. However, that isn’t practical; and Anheuser-Busch saw an opportunity to help the survivors of Hurricane Harvey. They repurposed their brewery to make drinking water.


Source: CBS Boston

So far they’ve sent 155,000 cans of drinking water to areas damaged by Hurricane Harvey. For Anheuser-Busch, this storm is personal. They have three facilities located in the Houston area where 1,100 people work, which makes their response all the more genuine.

Related Post: 3 Ways to Avoid Being a Thirsty Brand

Not only is Anheuser-Busch giving back, they’re fostering brand trust through positive PR.

Negative: Best Buy Gouges Drinking Water

While Anheuser-Busch was donating water, Best Buy was gouging customers. Ouch.

Related Post: 3 Surprising Ways Advertising Can Devastate Your Brand

At a Best Buy store in Cypress, Texas, a customer spotted bottled water selling for up to $42.96 per pack! To put that in perspective, a case of water at Walmart can cost less than $2. That’s a $40 markup!

Source: Mashable

Not only can poor word choice hurt a brand, but poor pricing can be just as devastating, too.

So what happened? Was it simply human error? Eh, we’ll let you be the judge.

Best Buy explained the mistake was due to employees pricing a case of water using the single-bottle price for each bottle. The company apologized and promised it wouldn’t happen again.

Positive: Furniture Store Opens Their Doors to Evacuees

Local furniture mogul Jim McIngvale opened two of his Gallery Furniture Stores to Houston flood victims. To spread the word, he has been sharing on social media that the stores would be open to provide shelter and food to anyone who needed it. And he’s even sent out trucks looking for more who need a roof over their heads. 

Furniture Gallery.jpg

Source: CBS News

This isn’t McIngvale’s first rodeo with Hurricanes. In 2005, he provided shelter to 200 of Hurricane Katrina evacuees. And he even ended up employing several of them. Clearly, McIngvale has a heart of gold.

Negative: Church Closes Their Doors to Evacuees

While many disaster victims were calling McIngvale their saving grace, Joel Osteen was being called the opposite.

Osteen has been accused of shutting his Lakewood Church under false pretenses. Although Osteen explained the reasoning was flooding, and provided photographic evidence, others disputed his claims.

Lakewood Church.jpg
Source: CBS News

The 16,800 seat arena which could’ve easily housed thousands who needed shelter from the floods closed its doors after Sunday services and remained closed through that Tuesday. When they did open their doors, it was to serve primarily as a distribution center for supplies to help victims.  

Related Post: Crisis Communication 101: 4 Tips We Can Learn From Facebook

Hmm not sure there’s a way for Osteen spin himself out of this one.

Negative: Hotel Refuses to Let Animals Stay Inside

Joel Osteen wasn’t the only one facing scrutiny for not opening his business’ doors. A Holiday Inn Express in Katy, Texas refused to let The Parkers, a Houston family looking for shelter, bring their three dogs inside.


Source: People Magazine

Despite pleas, the hotel refused to budge citing corporate policy. Left with no choice, the family had to leave their pups outside in the car and take turns sitting with them. After a couple days, the family was able to leave when they (and their pets) were offered a room at the TownePlace Suites by Marriott Houston, a few miles down the road. Eventually they were able to move to a family member’s private residence.

After the fact, a Holiday Inn manager said he’d allow the pets to stay inside for one night in exchange for a pet deposit plus positive review. Not surprisingly, the Parkers weren’t interested.

Later Holiday Inn Express released a statement apologizing to the family for their experience and offered to waive their hotel fees and give them rewards club points for a future stay. In response, the Parkers requested the hotel make a donation to disaster relief efforts and the Fort Bend County Animal Services instead.

The ball is now in Holiday Inn Express’ court.  

Positive: Trapped Bakers Make Treats for Flood Victims

During the storm, workers at El Bolillo Bakery in Houston found themselves trapped inside their store for two days. They used that time to bake trays of pan dulce pastries, which were later delivered to flood victims.


Source: NY Post

Since the bakery reopened, it continues to donate to first responders, shelters, and churches.

Positive: Local Pizza Shop Delivers Pizza via Kayak

A Sugarland, Texas Pizza Hut wanted to help out Hurricane Harvey victims, but it wasn’t safe for their drivers to drive through flooded streets. Enter: kayaks. Store manager Shayda Habib gathered her crew, loaded them up with pizzas and kayaks, and off they went.

So far they’ve delivered 120 free pizzas to families trapped in their homes.


Source: Mashable

They plan to continue making and delivering pies until they run out.

Positive: Celebs Raise Monetary Funds for Victims

Whenever there’s a disaster it’s not uncommon for celebs to use their name and wealth to help out. NFL footballer J.J. Watt, who plays for the Houston Texans, immediately jumped into action during the hurricane and subsequent aftermath. He created the Hurricane Harvey Flood Relief Fund with the goal of collecting $10 million in aid. He has since surpassed that goal and the donations keep coming in.



And Watt is just one of many celebs who have donated money to help survivors. Sandra Bullock donated $1 million, and many other Hollywood celebs even including some unlikely ones like Chris Brown have opened their wallets to help. Bravo!  

Responding to a natural (or manmade) disaster requires careful planning and tact. While it’s prudent to respond quickly, it doesn’t hurt to sit back and consider all angles before lending a hand.

Remember the potential fallout from one wrong move can be severe. But on the flip side, the rewards not only can be great from a PR perspective, but even more rewarding from a moral one, too. 

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Melissa Duko

Melissa Duko

Melissa Duko is the Senior Editor and Digital Specialist for eZanga and its ad fraud management platform, Anura. She brings to her role more than a decade of journalism and editing experience. A graduate of the University of Delaware, she holds a Bachelor of Arts in English, concentration business and technical writing, minor Art History. She also has a Master of Science in professional writing for the public and private sector from Towson University. She isn’t afraid to admit that her love for Starbucks is at gold member status. (Since 2011!) More Articles by Melissa Duko