Late yesterday, Postmates found itself in hot water with customers after advertising free delivery in what some felt was an insensitive marketing ploy. The company sent out a notification to users in the Los Angeles metropolitan area that mimicked the look of an emergency alert and even included a siren emoji; however, the "emergency" information was simply a code that would allow customers in the area to receive free delivery for the remainder of the month.
In addition to the notification, Postmates' free delivery deal was themed around "a broadcast of the Emergency Delivery System." According a photo shared on Twitter by @AlmithtyArceus_, the free delivery announcement inside the Postmates app read "This is a broadcast of the Emergency Delivery System. Important instructions to follow... All residents within the Los Angeles metropolitan area should seek immediate FREE delivery..."
We spoke with one Los Angeles resident who said the alert made her feel scared and offended. "When the big fires were happening in L.A., I lived right near a fire area and was getting frequent 'emergency alerts' about being prepared to evacuate immediately. It was really scary," the L.A. inhabitant (who chose to remain anonymous) told Refinery29 in an email. "So seeing 'emergency alert' 'not a test' pop up on my phone really worried me! Then I read it closer and saw that it was an ad, which I thought was in such poor taste and so disrespectful to all the people who have been affected by the recent emergencies like fires, school shootings, and even the false alarms like the nuclear strike warning in Hawaii."
She sent an email to customer support about the incident and received the following response: "I'm sorry to hear that your [sic] not a fan of one of our advertisements. That certainly was not our intention! We pride ourselves on the fact that we cater to a diverse audience here at Postmates and while this advertisement did not mesh with your tastes and preferences, we hope that our next one will."
Since the Postmates Emergency Alert promotion went live, a few customers have also expressed outrage via Twitter.
At least one customer has received a direct response from Postmates on Twitter. Yesterday, shortly after the campaign was launched, a Twitter user known online as @SkellaBorealis posted a screenshot of the Emergency Alert notification and wrote, "I know I’m sensitive but @Postmates can you fucking not. I was already in a full state of panic before I read the rest of this stupid advertisement. Are you not aware of the world we're living in? I'm still shaking. This is dumb."
About a half hour later, Postmates commented on @SkellaBorealis' tweet wroting, "You're right, we missed the mark with this one. I'm very sorry."
We spoke to Kara Nielsen, vice president of trends and marketing for CCD Innovation, about the marketing strategy in question. "We’re living in a moment where we see so clearly that bad behavior still gets a lot of attention...All PR is good PR, and I’m obviously looking at our administration, our government, our celebrity culture. Even if it was not planned to get negative publicity, it definitely was in poor taste and underscores how competitive this space is and the need for getting attention," Nielsen told Refinery29.
Postmates sent the following response to Refinery29 via email:
"Like most companies' push notifications, ours are meant to be light-hearted, fun and encourage our customers to act on the promotion. We obviously missed the mark on this one. We never meant for it to be received negatively, and we stopped sending it out last night as soon as we saw feedback on social media. Nothing is more important to us than adhering to our community standards ensuring our users always feel safe and comfortable when engaging our product."