9/11 was a terrible day that forever changed the course of history. We remember. Of course we do. It’s a given. But precisely how we remember is where it starts to get complicated, especially for brands and businesses.
In a media environment in which marketers perpetually strive to connect with consumers in specific moments – I don’t think we have to look any further than recent headlines about Burger King and Peace Day for a perfect example of brands looking for new occasions with which to cut through the proverbial noise – perhaps it isn’t surprising that many marketers have also attempted to lasso 9/11 as one such consumer interaction moment, year after year.
Plus, 9/11 has the added bonus of some built-in poignancy. In a country in which we are so deeply divided on so many issues, 9/11 may be a rare instance in which most of us actually are on the same page, at least in terms of the tragedy of the day.
So, in theory, perhaps marketers can’t be blamed for trying. After all, it’s a message that will resonate broadly. What more could brands ask for?
This desire to connect by whatever means necessary has been complicated by profound change.
In other words, 9/11 is arguably/likely/hopefully the greatest American tragedy we will experience in our lifetimes and as we have attempted to come to terms with it – which in and of itself is a topic for another post/publication – we have also seen the rise of social media, which has changed us, too, personally, professionally and culturally.
In many instances, marketers simply didn’t know what to do with a tragedy of this scale while they were simultaneously grappling with new platforms. It’s the only logical explanation for so many blunders over so many years. It has to be ignorance and inexperience.
9/11 Marketing Blunders
The Greatest Hits of 9/11 Marketing Blunders are somewhat extraordinary. A lot of marketing publications have gotten a lot of mileage out of compiling them over the years.
AT&T’s 2013 tweet seems to be the gold standard, but who can forget the mini muffins from a San Diego Marriott – available for free within the very specific window of 8:45 to 9:15 a.m., no less – or Fleshlight – Fleshlight! – taking a moment to remember.
— drink and fight (@eclectrica) September 11, 2013
I am perhaps being judgmental with the latter – after all, is not Austin, Texas-based Fleshlight part of our American family as well? – but I think there is a certain amount of common sense lacking in many of the most egregious examples. If you are in a line of business that offers discreet billing, I would like to think common sense would dictate you simply leave September 11 alone, no matter how somber you may legitimately feel in the depths of your soul.
But, remarkably, that wasn’t the case.
Fleshlight was in perfectly good company last year. Additional brands like White Castle, Cinnabon, Icee, Walmart, and Huggies reportedly felt it was necessary to mark the occasion in 2014.
Don’t even get me started on the local promos, like this beauty from this year, which exist purely for the sake of making political points. Again, it’s another post for another publication.
It’s 9/11 week. Use coupon code “muslim” at our site for $25 off any gun. Come in Fri for a free car wash and beer! pic.twitter.com/x1sTZPFk0V — Florida Gun Supply (@FLGunSupply) September 9, 2015
Thankfully, in 2015, we seem to have hit an all-time low of 9/11 marketing faux pas, which have grown fewer and further between. Like, say, Zales or this Upper East Side boutique. (For a more comprehensive roundup of the Class of 2015, see this post from Ad Age.)
9/11 Is A Moment Brands & Businesses Need To Leave Be
Perhaps it’s a worthwhile debate to discuss whether it’s appropriate for brands to chime in with messages of remembrance alongside patriotic imagery on days like September 11. I would argue no. There are simply some moments we need to leave be.
Of course we do. It’s a given.
But there is a school of thought that brand tributes are perfectly fine as long as marketers are respectful and don’t overtly insert themselves.
I would argue that from a purely practical perspective, even if a brand has the best intentions with its 9/11 tribute, the potential for backlash/offense is still too high. It simply isn’t worth it.
If your brand of cat food or fuzzy slippers or peach-flavored liqueur isn’t tweeting on September 11, we know why. I wish this was something we could collectively agree on.
Has any brand ever gotten in trouble for staying silent on September 11? Were they perceived as callous and unfeeling for not saying, “We remember,” out loud? I did a few quick searches, but found no examples. If you have any, please share them.
There may be demographics that respond well to tributes and patriotism. But, to me, it’s just piggybacking on tragedy, no matter how respectfully executed.
September 11, 2016
The 15th anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks makes me nervous. I fear brands that have quieted down in recent history will once again feel obligated to mark the occasion with misguided pomp and circumstance (e.g., will the San Diego Marriott be offering full-sized muffins on September 11, 2016?).
So I would argue this: The best brand tribute is simply a social media moment of silence for 9/11. Because we all remember.
Do you think it’s appropriate to post branded tributes? Why or why not?