Microsoft Apologizes for Using Japan Disaster to Market Bing

The first rule of using social networking as a marketing tool should be: Know when to do it and when not to do it.

The aftermath of an unfathomable natural disaster should be Example No. 1 of when not to do it.

Yet those responsible for Microsoft's Twitter account dedicated to its search engine, Bing, yesterday afternoon treated the ongoing tragedy in Japan as an opportunity to spread the word about their product. Here is the offensive tweet:

How you can #SupportJapan - For every retweet, @bing will give $1 to Japan quake victims, up to $100K.

Mentioned in this Tweet

Try Bing. A new way to search, explore, & decide

Sendai Airport after the Japan earthquake and tsunami
In fairness to Microsoft, the URL does point to the company's "Corporate Citizenship" page that spells out various ways people can help the victims in Japan. However, whether it was a calculated marketing ploy or merely the result of a marketer's natural thought process, the tying of the $1 company contributions to the number of retweets smacked of a cereal box-top drive. It also suggested that if there were only a few hundred retweets, Microsoft would contribute only a few hundred dollars.

The reaction was predictable, or at least it should have been:

If companies wanna help Japan victims, then just give money. Telling people to retweet is using a tragedy for marketing. @bing

Oh yes, of course. @Bing turn the largest earthquake on record to hit #Japan into a marketing opportunity. Nice work, Microsoft.

The volume of complaints intensified after comedian Michael Ian Black sent this message to his 1.6 million Twitter followers, according to Venture Beat:

How about they just give the money and shut up? RT @Alyssa_Milano For every RT, @bing will give $1 to quake victims, up to $100K

Microsoft got the message. Seven hours after the first tweet sent this apology:

We apologize the tweet was negatively perceived. Intent was to provide an easy way for people to help Japan. We have donated $100K.

The tweet wasn't just negatively perceived, it was really dumb.

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