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Merchandising effect around Charlie Hebdo threatens brands

The wave of emotion following the attacks of Paris led to a very strange marketing phenomenon : people tried to sell stuffs related to Charlie Hebdo popped up online and offline to profit from the worldwide press coverage the event got. Last Saturday I was interviewed by RTL on this very topic and thought it might be interesting to put my reflexions on paper.

Why are people trying to take profit of the event?

Greed. There is only word to explain this and it’s greed. Our Society has lost lots of its Ethics and that’s the reason why people are trying to sell Charlie Hebdo issue on internet, are trying to protect the brand “Je suis Charlie”, printing tee-shirts, and the like.

Unfortunately there is nothing much to do about that. Many people have lost hope in today’s Society (see my earlier post this week) and find in these opportunistic sales a way to make some money. Ethics has become secondary.

Unethical customer behavior : a challenge for brands

Unethical customer behavior may be a threat for brands if they are associated to it. Let’s take the example of Ebay or Amazon which saw vendors proposing Charlie Hebdo items on their marketplace. They can’t forbid the sales ; from a purely legal viewpoint there is nothing wrong. Unethical doesn’t mean it’s illegal. But a lack of ethics can be highly damaging for a company which has to react to protect itself.

The solutions found by Amazon and Ebay are actually quite good. They announced they would give all the fees resulting from those sales to Charlie Hebdo. By doing that they give a signal that customers are free to do what they want as long as it respects the law, but they give also a signal that they disapprove this behavior. It’s an ideal solution to protect customers’ freedom, protect the brand image and look good.


The danger for your brand doesn’t come only from inside your company. Even if deviant employees’ behaviors are damaging your reputation, you should also keep an eye on your customers (see this other post). They don’t need to engage in negative word-of-mouth to represent a threat. Even satisfied and loyal customers can be a pain if they carry values that don’t represent what you want your brand to stay for.

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Dr. Pierre-Nicolas Schwab is the founder of IntoTheMinds. He specializes in e-commerce, retail and logistics. He is also a research fellow in the marketing department of the Free University of Brussels and acts as a coach for several startups and public organizations. He holds a PhD in Marketing, a MBA in Finance, and a MSc in Chemistry. He can be contacted by email, Linkedin or by phone (+32 486 42 79 42)

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