SpaghettiO’s is just the latest brand to land in hot water for what was deemed an inappropriate tweet on a national day of mourning. In this case, December 7: Pearl Harbor Day. The tweet in question showed a smiling cartoon SpaghettiO holding an American Flag, and read “Take a moment to remember #PearlHarbor with us.” The backlash was instant: many were offended the company (parent Campbell's Soup) was making light of “A Day that will live in Infamy.”

The 12th anniversary of the September 11th attacks saw at least two notable missteps by popular brands that tried to appear thoughtful—and yet found themselves in the middle of a full-blown P.R. crisis.

The first was AT&T, which tweeted a picture of the Word Trade Towers “beams of light” on its smartphone. The caption was “Never Forget.” The other was The Los Angeles Lakers, which tweeted a picture of their star player Kobe Bryant. The future Hall of Famer was wearing a commemorative 9-11 ribbon on his uniform and #NEVERFORGET was emblazoned across the photo. In both cases, the tweets were deleted and apologies were issued.

Twitter can be a wonderful tool that allows you to engage in a dialogue with key stakeholders and the public at large. A smart and timely tweet can make your brand appear relevant and hip. (Think: Oreos during the Super Bowl blackout). A cringe-worthy tweet, however, can make your brand appear thoughtless, inappropriate and out of touch.

To avoid a Twitter-borne crisis…

  1. Ask yourself, “What holiday is it?” The Fourth of July? Because that’s probably a good day for the SpaghettiO with a Flag cartoon. Pearl Harbor Day, 9-11: not so much. Valentine’s Day or Halloween are good opportunities for goofy tweets, but never a national day of mourning. It’s in poor taste and sends the message: you just don’t get it.
  2. Don’t even think about Product Placement on a day of remembrance such as Memorial Day. Do you really want to exploit tragedy for the sake of sales and profit? Again, there’s a time and a place. You want to dress up a cookie as a pirate or ninja on Halloween, GO for it.
  3. Consider no picture at all. In most cases, it’s probably not necessary. It’s also erring on the side of caution. If you feel you must, use a shot that is 100% about the holiday you are commemorating and NOT about your business. Our real estate client WinnCompanies, for example, got it right with the picture they ran on Pearl Harbor Day.
  4. No tweet is better than a random tweet. And that’s especially true on a solemn occasion or anniversary. What does Kobe Bryant have to do with 9-11? Exactly: nothing.