9/11 Is Not A Marketing Moment

There are sim­ply some moments we should leave be.

Lisa Lacy By Lisa Lacy. Join the discussion » 0 comments

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.

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.

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.

We remem­ber.

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.

Stay Silent

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?

Lisa Lacy

Written by Lisa Lacy

Lisa is a senior features writer for Inked. She also previously covered digital marketing for Incisive Media. Her background includes editorial positions at Dow Jones, the Financial Times, the Huffington Post, AOL, Amazon, Hearst, Martha Stewart Living and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.

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