9/11 marketing mistakes

BTwrNENCcAA6_A9I remember it as if it were yesterday. The date was Monday, September 17, 2001. It was the first official day of work for most of America after the apocalyptic events of the preceding week.

Ed and Deb barreled breathlessly into my office to tell me one of our larger clients wanted major publicity for their efforts to rebuild Lower Manhattan’s telecommunications network. “Can you believe that, Steve?” asked Ed. “It’s wrong, just so wrong,” added Deb. I agreed. And, I supported their decision to refuse to generate ANY publicity that was so blatantly self-serving.

Happily, the client listened to our counsel. But, many other companies didn’t. And, I remember the skewering those firms took in a full-page Wall Street Journal article written later that same week.

And, yet, fully 12 years after 9/11, we still see major brands make major mistakes on the fateful anniversary:

AT&T decided to Tweet a salute to the brave men and women who lost their lives that day. The blogosphere outed it for the blatant, self-serving marketing message it was, and the telecom giant was forced to Tweet an apology.

HBO, White Castle and Walgreen’s also felt compelled to comment publicly about the anniversary. And, one Mississippi-based newspaper actually ran a 9/11 discount in an attempt to attract readers. All of the above are shameful, if not dumb.

And, then there were the countless Joe Six-Packs and Jane Chardonnays who felt compelled to share their personal recollections of 9/11:

– “I had just put little Bobby back into his crib, was tying my tie and, boom, I heard Katie Couric’s voice on TV, say, ‘Uh oh. Something’s definitely wrong.’ “

– “I had just emerged from the toll booth on the Goethals Bridge, and had an unobstructed view of Manhattan.”

Who cares?

There is no upside for brands to say something about 9/11. It comes across as self-serving, inwardly focused, inauthentic and anything BUT patriotic. As for individuals who share their personal 9/11 stories, don’t. You are the only one who cares.

Let’s let 9/11 belong to the families and friends of the victims. Let’s also allow survivors of that awful day reflect in their own way.

Enough with special sales discounts, bogus salutes to patriotism and heavy-handed shout outs to New York’s fire and police departments.

We know what happened that day and, I’m sorry, Walgreen’s, et al, but you shouldn’t be inserting yourself in someone else’s story.

When will we learn?

10 thoughts on “9/11 marketing mistakes

  1. Then you don’t know your history, former med guy. Pearl Harbor was catastrophic, and caused the same, seismic ripple effect as 9/11. We declared war on Japan the next day and, acting on their commitments to Japan, Nazi Germany declared was on us. You don’t think that scenario affected every single American?

    The only difference between then and now was social media and, as you put it, a ‘victim’ mentality. You feel personally victimized by 9/11. That’s bull.

    • I’m with RepMan on this one. The idea that we as a nation need to remain traumatized and infantalized by 9/11 is just wrong to me on many levels.

      I traveled the country extensively in late 2001 and I got hugs from strangers when I told them I was from NYC. That was fine and appropriate for a nation healing, but it’s not supposed to continue forever. We move on. If someone wants to post their Facebook reflections of watching 9/11 on CNN, that’s their business — I don’t have to pay attention. 12 years later, someone’s need to “share” the grief with the families of the victims just comes across as self-absorbed.

      The difference between Pearl Harbor and September 11th is that the former never turned into an industry or a collective group therapy. People had work to do and did it. I for one would rather go back to that.

  2. It’s a good thing you’re not standing next to a member of the Greatest Generation right now, former med guy. They’d pummel you upside the head for such an uninformed comment. Pearl Harbor affected every American in exactly the same way as 9/11. The Greatest Generation simply wasn’t as self-absorbed as we are today.

    Anyone alive today who lived through December 7, 1941, AND 9/11 will tell you each tragedy caused the same, profound sense of shock and grief. Shame on you for thinking otherwise.

    • Shock and grief- I wouldn’t argue with that. However, did Pearl Harbor impact the way every American traveled, communicated every day for the rest of their lives- I would argue it didn’t.

  3. I am one of the “Joe Sixpacks” mostly because Chardonnay stinks. Sauvignon Blanc is my white wine.

    While I am here today, we did loose a client (Ted and I attended the funeral in PA), I lost a friend (he was a trader at Cantor Fitzgerald), we thought the worst about my father (he was on the Path, finally connected with him at 1 PM), etc. It’s things like those instances that did affect me. I go to Yardley’s Garden of Reflection once a year (www.9-11memorialgarden.org) and still think of it often (some of Med Guy’s examples trigger the memories). There are many stories of people that could have been there, but for some reason didn’t head to the Towers and are here today, able to post on this blog. If I want to continue to do so, for my own personal reasons and ability to process and maybe nudge others to reflect (verses post about their lunch for one day), I think that is “okay.”

    • That was said very well Lunch!

      Rep- sorry about the wrong town, I wasn’t sure if you left Holy Name for Bogota, Leonia or parts unknown. But part of my point was that we are all victims in a way, hence why it is all of our day to reflect. We were all affected on some emotional level and thus we all suffered a loss. I would also argue that there aren’t many posts about JFK’s shooting or Pearl Harbor bc those events didn’t change the life of everyone in some way. As i said, it’s simply impossible not to realize how much 9/11 changed the every day life life for everyone. Hence why the history channel had a documentary last night called “102 minutes that changed America”- bc America and ALL Americans were victims on that day. No other event in recent history even comes close.

  4. I completely disagree, Former Med Guy. My trials and travails with United Airlines have nothing whatsoever to do with one of the darkest moments in American history. My posts don’t capitalize on the misfortune of others. I respect the privacy of families and friends of victims, and the survivors. It’s their day to reflect, not ours. And, for the record, it’s Ridgefield Park, not Bogota. We Scarlets despise the dreaded Bucs.

  5. I could not agree more with Steve. This wound is still too fresh. Both companies and individuals need to tread lightly. Whatever happened to just being classy? Bubbles, I have to disagree with you. I don’t think we should ALLOW things to get worse. We should criticize anyone who uses 9/11 for their own gain. 9/11 is more like Pearl Harbor Day or the anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing. These are horrible events that should be commemorated, not exploited. We don’t see Pearl Harbor Day sales (“We’re blowing prices out of the water!!”)…so let’s make sure we never, ever see 9/11 discounts.

  6. Rep- I agree with the premise of the blog and how companies shouldn’t use the day to market themselves but 10000% disagree about your concept of “anyone who isn’t family of a victim should keep quiet”. In many ways, we were and still are ALL victims. Many lost friends, co-workers, etc and we ALL lost freedoms and security. We all still wait in long lines at airports as TSA folks try and find what they can’t bc the bad-guys are 2-steps ahead, we all sit on traffic on bridges and tunnels for no reason, we all have our emails and internet use being watched by big-brother now, etc etc. And so, everyone of us has had our lives changed and therefore 9/11 is a way to reflect on how America changed forever.

    And in terms of Joe Sixpack or Jane Nobody, tweets, FB posts, etc about where they were or what they remember are reminders to them and friends as a way to reflect. Their post on 9/11 about being downtown and running or about watching the news as they got their manicure is no different than reading about how some PR guy is sitting at a gate for 2 hours while he sips a cocktail. Does anyone really “care” if a former little league guy from Bogota who once dreamed of playing center field for the mets is sitting at an airport. No. But we all love social media as it helps us feel connected to friends and family and the world and 9/11 posts are just another way that we all reflect.

  7. Sorry, but 9/11 belongs to everyone, not just the victims and their families. However, personal accounts of where you were and what you were doing is as boring as watching an old dog scratch. And I agree that to use this day as a marketing tool is wrong. But, it’s inevitable and I suspect, will only get worse, despite the apologies issued yesterday. Memorial Day is to honor those who served our country, but a Memorial Day Sales are now traditional. Same with Veterans Day. I can’t believe you’re surprised or shocked.