Thursday, 30 April 2009

Swine flu as marketing opportunity?

Rob Lake, a retail specialist and blogger for Australia's Business Spectator website, writes that if the swine flu pandemic turns out to be as severe as some fear, bricks-and-mortar retailers will be especially hard hit: "Shopping will involve far too great a risk of infection for many people. Mexican retailers are reporting deserted stores and restaurants already. Starbucks has closed 10 Mexico City stores."

This in turn could be a silver lining of sorts for cataloguers and online merchants. "Online retailing may have the opportunity to boom, provided capacity can grow fast enough. Fulfilment logistics will be stretched to breaking point. The companies that can expand their online capacity at short notice will do best," Lake continues.
No-one likes to profit from the misfortune of others, of course. (Or if they do, they certainly pretend otherwise.) So I doubt we'll be seeing marketing emails along the lines of "Don't risk your life by venturing out to the high street for a new pair of shoes! Order from the comfort of your home at" or "Since going out is too dangerous, you need some entertainment delivered to your door. Here's a selection of books and CDs we'll ship to you, picked and packed by workers in surgical masks and rubber gloves".

But Slingsby, a cataloguer of office and warehouse supplies, has found a way to take advantage of the swine flu in its marketing. "Safeguard your employee's [sic] health and reduce the risk of cross contamination and infection in your workplace," declares the headline of an email received on Monday. Below are links to hand sanitisers, cleaning fluids, and the like.

Slingsby is no stranger to using fear as a sales tool; see an earlier post, "Scare tactic of the week". And because its current email is circumspect--swine flu and pandemic don't appear at all in the message--it manages not to come across as unduly opportunist. I don't know if marketers of many other types of products could pull off the same trick.--SC

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