Not all disaster support efforts are created equal

IMI research looks at Fort McMurray relief efforts to see what makes a brand response feel authentic.

Last week, brands across Canada did what they could to support those affected by the Fort McMurray wildfires. But some efforts were noticed more, and better received, than others.

IMI surveyed 2,100 Canadians between May 6 and 10 – when the wildfire was at its peak and the evacuation orders were being issued – and also used significant social listening to measure the online sentiment toward brands and organizations connected to the relief efforts.

When it came to who was doing the best job of helping the community, “firefighters” was, predictably, the top response, with the Red Cross a distant second. When asked only about brands, Red Cross was at the top, followed by West Jet, which provided travel out of the area and transported supplies into the area. Suncor and Shell, which typically don’t get much good press due to their association with the controversial oilsands, received the next most positive sentiment for opening their work camps as living spaces for evacuees. Labatt, Telus and Costco also received positive mentions.

When it came to those that did the most disappointing job “due to their lack of response,” Air Canada was on top for what was perceived by many online to be price gouging, providing the same prices to Fort McMurray residents as everyone else, which were as much as four times those of other airlines (Air Canada, for its part, said in a statement it was a result of its automated price management system, and eventually did lower its prices for flights out of Fort McMurray).

Despite asking only about companies, “government” was the second-most disappointing brand, as many recalled the $5.3 million cut from the firefighting budget by Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau turned down international aid to help fight the fires. This is despite the fact that much of the funding to fight wildfires comes from the province’s emergency budget, not the general firefighting budget, and Trudeau’s refusal of international aid was based on the suggestion of experts on the ground in Alberta.

Though Labatt wasn’t the top mentioned when it came to brands helping Alberta, it did receive some of the highest awareness for its efforts. When asked, unaided, “which brand provided 200,000 cans of water” to those affected by the wildfire, 48% of those surveyed were able to name Labatt. A similar number – 45% of those surveyed – were able to say Labatt provided water to Alberta when asked “what action did Labatt take” to help those affected. IMI notes that, with only 2,066 contributing to the conversation about Labatt on Twitter, much of the awareness was driven by PR, word of mouth and news coverage, showing that social media doesn’t have to be used to drive social awareness.

IMI also points to Labatt as an example of how a timely response to a disaster that has an immediate impact on those affected goes much further in terms of showing the brand actually cares. WestJet’s flights for evacuees had 38% awareness among those surveyed, while Telus waiving call and text fees had 18% awareness. Fifty per cent of those surveyed said they felt more favourable to WestJet as a brand and 41% said they were more likely to consider using it as a result of its efforts, while 44% said they felt more favourable to and 33% were more likely to consider buying Labatt. For Telus, 40% said they were more favourable toward the brand and 34% said they were more likely to consider it.

When it comes to proving that a brand actually cares about helping with a disaster, and not just receiving positive publicity, 54% of those surveyed said having a response within 24 hours is helpful.

Featured image courtesy of the Office of the Premier of Alberta.