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Capitalising on the Japanese disaster

The Japanese earthquake and tsunami over the weekend was terrible.

In a country that is familiar with Earthquakes – remember Kobe – it is surprising the devastation caused, and the Tsunami that followed made it far worse.

In fact, a story that came out just today was of the poor guy Hiromitsu Shinkawa, who was found 15 kilometres out to sea drifting on the ripped-off roof of his house.

So many unbelievable stories.

I’m writing about the Japanese tragedy for two reasons and, as I do, I wonder if I'm capitalising on the Japanese disaster.

First, the disaster amazed me as a story of social media, as have so many other recent stories across the world (Tunisia being case in point).

The news of the story hit me via Twitter first, as it did for many. I think David Kellogg’s blog sums this up well:

“We were on Twitter that night and suddenly the Japanese Twittersphere lit up with tweets about the earthquake. So we called our family and got through to them while the earthquake was still in progress.”

Real-time news.

Here’s TimeOut Tokyo’s twitter stream as it happened:

Timeout tokyo 

The news travels faster now via social media than it does by real-time media.

For example, another major illumination was the on-the-ground coverage of the quake. Here’s Citizen Tube, the YouTube news channel for real-time user-generated videos.

By watching mobile and other video uploads, you get a real view of what’s happening again. For example, I’m sure the store staff loved the idea of this guy just running around filming as they run around trying to save the store …

… mind you, just holding onto the shelves whilst everything falls apart around you doesn’t seem to be that effective either.

The point here is that, for some, social media has revolutionised news by:

  1. streaming in real-time, minutes or hours before old media covers the story; and
  2. gathering the best on-the-ground views and angles, rather than waiting for the one-dimensional reporting position of the news crew.

That’s 21st century news for yuou.

The second thing that struck me is that everything gets back to normal real fast.

For example, Microsoft’s Bing has got into stormy waters really quickly over using the tragedy as a marketing opportunity.

What did they do?

They sent out a tweet saying: “How you can #SupportJapan – http://binged.it/fEh7iT. For every retweet, @bing will give $1 to Japan quake victims, up to $100K.”

Now I can imagine the conversation in the office when they sent it out.

Nerd: “Hey, did you see the news headlines. Big wave in Japan. Sad.”

Geek: “Bad and sad but you know what? We can help.”

Nerd: “We can … what, give some money?”

Geek: “Yea, let’s send some money or create a charitable cause or something.”

Nerd: “Wow, good idea.”

Geek: “But what can we do?”

Nerd: “I know, I know, I know.”

Geek: “What?”

Nerd: “We could give some money by linking it with Bing.”

Geek: “Sounds bad.”

Nerd: “No it’s cool. We send out a tweet and get retweets for charity.”

Geek: “Oh yea. That’s ok. Everyone does that.”

So they send out the tweet and guess what?

It’s bad.

Real bad.

Everyone hates them.

You know, a $65 billion company willing to give $100,000 for retweeting their ad?

Not good.

A few reactions:

“@MSFTnews: Why not just give them the $100k”, peteofrepublic replied.

Comedian Michael Ian Black first re-Tweeted Bing's plea with the pointed but rather benign message, Hey @Bing, stop using a tragedy as a f—ing marketing opportunity.

Freneticfloetry tweeted: For every RT, @bing will Google the meaning of ‘donation.'

Ryan Kauffman, tweeting as Convexmirror said: Hey, there's a nuclear power plant on fire! Let's get our name out there!

The power of the public voice is never more notable than it is today and, although Bing has apologised, mud sticks.

But, on the point of returning to normal, the actions of the Bank of Japan is even more notable.

The Bank announced $183 billion cash boost today to shore up the economy after the Nikkei 225 dropped 6.2%.  

Now that is capitalising for the Japanese economy.

The reason for the fast action by the Bank is that the index dropped 25% after the Kobe Earthquake of 1995.

I remember that diasaster well as my firm back then used the Earthquake as a case study of how to use data mining techniques to find lost people.

Oh no, they weren’t using a disaster as a marketing opportunity were they?

Back to the present, the reason for the fast action by the Bank is, as Robert Peston points out: Nomura – the largest Japanese investment bank – is forecasting that the disaster will delay a recovery in the Japanese economy by about six months.

Or, as FT Alphaville notes: After Friday’s almighty earthquake, Japanese Government Bond (JGB) futures rallied (the cash market was closed immediately after the event), reportedly on safe haven demand. But there’s still plenty of JGB bearishness around too — with worries that new liquidity measures and the cost of rebuilding could eat into Japan’s finances.

The point of both of the above items is that although disasters may strike, business goes on.

Give to Japan:


About Chris M Skinner

Chris M Skinner

Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog, the Finanser.com, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal’s Financial News. To learn more click here…

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