The Hustle

As fires rage across California, ‘disaster capitalists’ double down on advertising

Several companies used California’s recent wildfires to advertise their products, raising questions about the ethics of so-called “disaster capitalism.”

November 4, 2019

In the past few weeks, fires near San Francisco and Los Angeles have plunged parts of California into a state of chaos and disaster. 

The fires forced several hundred thousand people from their homes and left several million people without power.

But, despite the fact that many Californians didn’t have access to power or water (much less Wi-Fi), disaster-preneurs took advantage of the smoke to start hawking everything from high-end air purifiers to solar panels.

First came the smoke… 

Then came the smoke and mirrors. 

Molekule — which makes an air purifier that The New York Times’ Wirecutter called “the worst air purifier” it ever reviewed — began running geo-targeted advertisements for its air purifiers that showed images of wildfires.

After the ad campaign, a Molekule co-founder told The Verge: “It’s obvious we didn’t get it right… We apologize to anyone who found it offensive or exploitative.”

And Molekule wasn’t the only company to blow smoke 

Tesla CEO Elon Musk — who’s gotten in trouble for thoughtless tweets before — advertised a wildfire-specific discount on Tesla’s Solar+Powerwall on Twitter.

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