When it comes to targeted marketing, the question that’s typically debated is whether using information that you know about a customer to personalize their experience is helpful or intrusive.

But last week, during Hurricane Sandy’s destructive rampage through many states along the East Coast, the discussion took a different direction: taste level.

Some of the sales promotions that referenced the hurricane as a reason for people to shop online were skewered by consumers and the media for displaying a lack of sensitivity.

In a Bloomberg article, American Apparel CEO Dov Charney stated his company’s email campaign (which seems to have triggered much of the backlash with its offer to help people alleviate boredom while they waited out the storm) generated tens of thousands of dollars. Still, he noted, this revenue won’t come close to making up for the millions of dollars he predicted American Apparel lost to Sandy’s impact.

Certainly, companies should want to be agile enough to have their marketing campaigns respond to the most current news topic. But there’s a right way and a wrong way to target the messaging.

Take, for example, another online sale executed during the hurricane. This housewares retailer displayed a banner on its website, just below the top nav bar, that offered visitors in the super storm’s extended path free shipping on all orders as a goodwill gesture.

By targeting the banner to this traffic segment, the retailer could help consumers who might have intended to visit its stores—or competitors’—complete their shopping trips without incurring shipping fees. And with the ability to restrict the message to this select population, the retailer also could create an offer that was appropriate.

The time-limited campaign generated revenue in the five-figure range, with a conversion lift of 31.04%—and no bad press or consumer backlash.

On a related note, a specialty products retailer used its website optimization capabilities to communicate an important customer service message during the storm. The retailer knew that many of its customers would be worried about the status of their auto-delivery shipments, so it posted a banner at the top of its website pages that alerted visitors to the possibility of shipping delays resulting from Hurricane Sandy.

While this effort wasn’t targeted—all visitors were shown the banner—it reflects the retailer’s understanding of and timely response to its customers’ concern.

As Gartner analyst Bill Gassman put it in a comment on his recent blog post: “Personal taste is in the mouth of the beholder.” That means, every marketer has to determine where the line between tactful and tacky falls for its customer segments.

Gassman and colleague Allen Weiner recommend marketers implement a peer review and sign-off step in the campaign process. We’d suggest taking the next step, and making sure you have the ability to immediately turn off website campaigns that are missing the mark on good taste.