The Japanese earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster have profoundly affected the world. The global outpouring of grief, sympathy and support is unprecedented in recent history. Given the scope of the cataclysm, email marketers should be displaying extreme sensitivity in the composition of their newsletter content to ensure that nothing is stated that could be seen as indecorous or malapropos.

Microsoft Perceived as Exploitative

Microsoft’s Bing search engine was going to donate $1 for the first 100,000 retweets but was viciously criticized as self-promoting: They aborted the attempt and donated the money anyway, but by then the damage was done. To ensure that your brand does not fall into the same unfortunate category, it is important to carefully scrutinize your upcoming campaign content: Could any of the terms or images employed be negatively interpreted with regards to the recent events in Japan?

Avoid Mention of Words Linked to the Catastrophe

Some otherwise completely innocent phrases such as “price meltdown,” “inventory overflow,” “sale explosion,” “nuke the competition,” “torrent of savings,” “get blown/swept away,” or words such as wave, flood, washout, swamp, cataclysm, richter, geiger, atomic, reactor, radioactive, radiation, rem, shake, tremor, temblor, collapse, or drowned should be meticulously excised from your copy. The limitations imposed by sensitivity do not stop at narrative wording: There are a number of consumer items entitled Tsunami, Quake or similar and you might be well advised to temporarily de-emphasize these products in your marketing approaches. Furthermore, any references to apocalypse, armageddon, doomsday or other eschatological terms are also best avoided.

Infelicitous mentions of the triplet nature of the earthquake leading to the tsunami followed by nuclear meltdown should also be edited out. Phrases such as “good things come in threes” or “three’s company” could be severely misinterpreted by your subscribers. “Made in Japan” went from being a derogatory term in the Fifties and Sixties to an imprimatur of quality in the 21st century, but it is also one of the phrases that at this time should be used sparingly if at all. The only exception should be if you are specifically pointing out that the act of purchasing the product is in some way honestly and directly beneficial to the Japanese rescue and rebuilding efforts.

Empathize with and Support the Japanese Population

The Japanese catastrophe varies significantly from the recent Haitian earthquake as Japan is a fully developed, industrialized and wealthy nation that is possibly better organized to confront such a disaster than any other country. Encouraging financial contributions to international aid organizations such as the Red Cross may be seen as more preferable by your customers than a direct donation to Japan-specific rebuilding funds. It might be best to propose to your readers some form of participation in expressing solidarity, commiseration and condolence such as signing a statement of support on your Facebook page, or volunteering friendship and benevolent camaraderie through forums and chat rooms to individuals directly struck by the tragedy.

Treat the Tragedy with Sensitivity, Altruism and Respect

Your brand’s approach to this disaster should echo the words of Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s recent address: “I ask each one of you, please have such determination, and deepen your bond with your family members, your neighbors, and the people in your community to overcome this crisis so that Japan can be a better place. We can do it together.” By treating this tragedy with sensitivity, respect and altruism, your company can not only make a positive contribution to assisting the plight of the millions of Japanese citizens impacted by this calamity but you will also avoid the pitfalls of inadvertent reputation-shredding gaffes.