The devastation in Haiti has brought people from all over the world together online in what can only be described as an impressive display of generosity.

Not surprisingly, Twitter is playing a big role in disseminating information about the crisis. And it's playing a big role in fundraising for organizations providing relief to Haiti. Unfortunately, unscrupulous marketers are taking advantage of the situation to further their business interests.

It doesn't take too much effort to find examples of this. Take the following tweets:

all #clothdiapers orders portion goes to @redcross 4 #Haiti Relief

A portion of all of b. Hughes' sales from now through the weekend will be donated to the Red Cross for the relief efforts in Haiti! Pls RT!!

Just sold and re-listed! A portion of sales will go to the relief effort in #Haiti is donating a portion of our bookings to disaster relief in #haiti. Find more information here:

Help Us Help #Haiti! We are donating a portion of proceeds from on-line sales to American Red Cross Haiti Relief Fund

"Team Conan" by @alexpardee portion of proceeds will be donated to @yelehaiti #teamconan #haiti

Last day of the weekend! But we are still donating a portion to ALL SALES to #Haiti and the Red Cross.

Book a session at this month, you'll make an a portion of this month's sessions for relief to #Haiti.

Help 2 causes at same time: Buy "I'm With Coco" T's & prints, with portion going to #Haiti.

Now there's nothing inherently wrong with businesses supporting a cause. In fact, without support from businesses, many charitable organizations would be far worse off. And there's also nothing inherently wrong with businesses donating a portion of their sales to a cause.

The problem here, however, is that much of the stuff we're seeing is little more than opportunistic marketing piggybacking on tragedy. We're talking about a major humanitarian crisis here. Marketers who had never mentioned the word 'Haiti' before tragedy struck are now seizing on it to boost sales and goodwill. And many aren't even being subtle about it.

Unfortunately, such efforts often backfire in the long run. Which is why marketers considering Haiti-related initiatives need to be careful. Here are some tips:

  • Don't target the hashtag. This is just downright sleazy and makes it's clear that the real agenda is a marketing agenda. 'Nuff said.
  • Don't ask for retweets. If your effort is worthy, individuals will retweet without the push. Again, asking for retweets screams 'Sleazy marketing ploy!'
  • Don't spam. Want to know what spam looks like? See @sugardipes, who tweeted six times in the past day about its partial Haiti donation using the #Haiti hashtag and referencing @RedCross to boot.
  • Think twice about partial donations. As I said, there's nothing inherently wrong with donating a portion of sales to a cause. Many businesses do partial donation initiatives and it's a boon for charitable organizations looking to augment direct donations during a normal fundraising drive. But partial donations are not nearly as appropriate when there's an immediate crisis, as charitable organizations are already receiving lots of publicity and there's plenty of motivation for individuals to donate directly to the relief effort, which is far more effective. For businesses that do choose to do partial donations anyway, don't be shady: tell people what 'portion of' means. Is it 10%, 50%, 90%? None of the tweets mentioned above disclosed this information, and as I write this post, this important detail is not revealed on any of the pages they linked to!
  • Consider an outright donation. If you really want to help the Haitian relief effort, consider making an outright donation instead of donating a portion of sales. It will enable you to avoid tying your financial gain to your charitable giving and makes it clear that your intentions are not to drive sales but rather to give back.
  • Use common sense. When it comes to whether or not marketing is exploiting tragedy, there's an easy way to tell: you know it when you see it. I suspect, for instance, that the average person would agree that this attempt at acquiring additional subscribers to an email newsletter by promising a 50p donation is a bit scummy.

It's unfortunate that at a time when so many organizations and individuals are working hard to help the people of Haiti, marketers take advantage of the situation to help their bottom line. Don't be one of them. If you're truly interested in helping a cause, consider implementing charitable initiatives that aren't related to an ongoing crisis and that will assist an organization when its fundraising efforts need a boost.

Patricio Robles

Published 20 January, 2010 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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Comments (7)

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mike ashworth

interesting, what about the companeis that delivered offers to ppl becuae of the recession.

did they really have the ppl in mind or the bottom line?

you could take this view and translate it to pretty much any marektign activity.

over 8 years ago

Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles, Tech Reporter at Econsultancy



When a recession hits, businesses have to adapt to keep and win business. Taking retail as an example, when the recession began, inventories were too high. With consumer budgets tightened, retailers had no choice but to slash prices to bring their inventories in line with demand. I've never met anyone who thought that retailers were cutting prices to help consumers; I think it was pretty clear to just about everyone that they were really hurting.

In short, there's absolutely no way you can equate piggybacking on tragedy to boost sales with legitimate marketing techniques or pricing decisions based on economic factors.

over 8 years ago


Mark McCulloch

I have been researching social media for a very long time now and I have not been able to find such top quality information untill I came to your blog today.

Mark McCulloch

over 8 years ago



I think you're being unduly harsh on some of those that you've highlighted (the etsy sites, in particular). They don't seem to me to be unscrupulous, just misguided.

I wonder what the tipping point is - for instance, some photographers have set up a group on flickr to auction prints of their work. Money from the sales goes to Haiti relief. How much could you say they're just trying to further their photography careers while simultaneously helping Haiti?

Stretching it even further, could econsultancy be exploiting the exploitation with this blog post showing yourselves as social media experts?

over 8 years ago

Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles, Tech Reporter at Econsultancy


I don't think it's harsh to call people out on this. We can debate semantics (misguided versus unscrupulous) but the reality is that when someone seizes on tragedy in an effort to achieve personal gain, it should be called what it is: disgraceful.

In this case, there are plenty of charitable organizations that are receiving millions of dollars of donations from individuals. When you donate directly to them, you know where the money is really going and when it's going to get there.

From my perspective, there's no legitimate need for someone interested in donating to the relief effort to purchase something from somebody who claims to be donating some unspecified portion of sales at some unspecified time.

As I said, partial donation initiatives are less problematic when they're not designed to seize on tragedy. Planning a campaign where you promise to donate 50% of your sales to cancer research, for instance, isn't exploitation because you're not piggybacking on a horrible, time-sensitive situation that is getting a lot of attention and generating a lot of charitable giving. In this case, you're legitimately helping with standard fundraising, not trying to divert individual generosity to your own sales.

As for the possibility that Econsultancy is exploiting the situation, I probably shouldn't even respond to that but I think it's pretty clear: we write about a lot of topics, including social media, and have been for some time now. In other words, we haven't started critiquing the use of social media (both good and ugly) with this post.

over 8 years ago


Brandy Harrington

As an etsy seller, I was seriously of two minds when I saw the "Hearts for Haiti" campaign splashed all over their site.

My first gut reaction as a human was eww-yuck! I hate seeing people trying to make a buck off of a tragedy.

Then I realized that in this case they had sellers donating 100% of the proceeds to the relief effort. For a brief moment as a seller I considered that if I were going to buy a purse anyway, say, then wouldn't I rather buy one going for charity? Isn't that like a bake sale for a church or something? Buying over-priced cookies from girl scouts?

And in the next instant I realized as a Christian/altruist I would just NOT buy the purse and give the money to a charity directly--which is what I did. And that started me questioning the cookies...

All this just to say it is a complex issue that some people might wrestle with in good conscience.

Though, I did notice that while the little etsy sellers might be in some cases willing to donate all proceeds, Etsy the site, a multi-million dollar corporation, did not offer to waive their commission on those who's the grinch?

over 8 years ago


Concerned Haitian

obviously you done a good job sharing these, i in fact am in need of such info a site.
Anyways wanna tell you something about Haiti...
As i'm concern about my Haiti. After an Heavy natural disaster It's become back dated. And bearing unmeasurable sufferings. Still now it's facing crisis from all sides, created from the Earth Quake as well as by nature. But It's time to change the day, So request all of you to come forward to make tha days ahead distinctly.
I think at this moment HAITI really needs help to be rebuild.Outgoing Haitian President René Préval has set the presidential elections for Nov. 28, 2010.
According to ma justification,
<a href="">Charlito Baker</a> should be under consideration as a deserving personality,
who can supply the best support and leadership
Thank you.

over 7 years ago

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