Budweiser vs. Joel Osteen – Brand Lessons from Hurricane Harvey

Anheuser-Busch-Canned-Water

 

Sigh…you’d think brands would learn.

There are moments when you can choose to do the right thing – and potentially accrue massive goodwill that translates into positive press and (more importantly) increased customer loyalty…

Or do the wrong thing, and incur consumer backlash.

This weekend provided a litmus test – and case study – for both approaches, with the tragedy of Hurricane Harvey.

Hurricane Harvey

Reaching landfall on August 25, Hurricane Harvey was the strongest storm to hit Texas since 1961 – it flooded Houston, Texas, the fourth-largest city in the United States.

  • 9 people have reportedly died due to the storm so far.
  • More than 30,000 residents were displaced.
  • Preliminary damage estimates range from $10 billion – $40 billion.

As the government – and Texas residents – mobilized to respond in any way they could, the country at large has realized it is facing a disaster reaching potential Hurricane Katrina proportions.

Houston-Normal

Anheuser-Busch

In response to Harvey, beer company Anheuser-Busch – the parent company of Budweiser – began bottling canned water rather than beer.

By Monday, the company had delivered more than 155,000 cans of water to Arlington, Texas, with more deliveries planned for Baton Rouge, Louisiana this week.

Nor is this a one-off event for Anheuser-Busch. It actively partners with the American Red Cross to help produce and distribute water to citizens in disaster areas several times a year.

“Throughout the year, we periodically pause beer production at our Cartersville, Georgia, brewery to produce emergency canned drinking water so we are ready to help out communities across the country in times of crisis,” said Bill Bradley, Vice President of Community Affairs at Anheuser-Busch. “Putting our production and logistics strengths to work by providing safe, clean drinking water is the best way we can help in these situations.”

Joel Osteen

On the other end of the spectrum, is Joel Osteen, TV personality and pastor of the Lakewood church in Houston.

Joel-Osteen

Osteen received intense criticism on social media after he offered prayers for those in Texas who were affected by the hurricane but refused to open the church – which can hold more than 16,000 people, to those in need.

Osteen later posted that the church was inaccessible due to flooding – an assertion immediately challenged by locals who posted these exterior photos of the complex such as these, showing it seemingly undamaged and with multiple cars parked outside.

News of the controversy surrounding Joel Osteen’s response and the failure of seeming hypocrisy of the Lakewood Church from helping Christians and others in need of shelter went viral, receiving coverage in outlets including ABC News, USA Today, and The New York Post, among others.

By early this morning, the church had changed its tune, noting that it will open Tuesday at noon to collect baby food, baby formula, baby diapers, and adult diapers on behalf of the city.

It has also told the city government it would help shelter Harvey victims “once other shelters are full.”

Much of the controversy here stems from Joel Osteen’s position as one of the wealthiest pastors in the country, with a net worth of well over $50 million.

Many questioned the church’s seemingly un-Christian and slow response in not providing immediately shelter to those in need when it brings in millions of donations weekly in the name of helping thy neighbor and other Christian principles.

I can’t speak to that directly.

And the Lakewood Church – and Joel Osteen himself – may ultimately benefit from the huge negative media coverage they have received in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.

As Brendan Behan said, “There is no such thing as bad publicity except your own obituary.”

But I’m still left with that queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach that views natural disasters such as Hurricane Harvey as an easy opportunity for brands – be they churches or beer companies – to come together and put people ahead of profits.

It’s an easy choice that could ultimately benefit the bottom line of those brands that choose to do the right thing.

As Anheuser-Busch has shown, even beer brands can do well by doing good.

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