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Marketing and the exploitation of 9/11

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Marketing and the exploitation of 9/11


There have been numerous attempts by advertisers over the last decade to use 9/11 imagery to communicate their message. 
Marketers striving for maximum visual impact found it in abundance with the images of the World Trade Center attacks. The fact that 9/11 means so many things to so many people provides advertisers with a bridge to where they want to be: the individual and the collective subconscious.
But using 9/11 for publicity purposes is always going to be controversial. Here are some of the TV and print spots that have tried to walk the fine line between appropriate use and tasteless exploitation.

Some organisations argued that they were not promoting themselves, but rather an environmental or humanitarian message. The presence of their logos however does imply a certain degree of self-promotion.


The caption next to the Towers reads “2,863 dead”. The caption next to the homeless man reads “630 million homeless people in the world. The world united against terrorism. It should do the same against poverty.”
MTV made three versions of this ad; the others related to AIDS and hunger. They were banned by the US government due to their sensitive content and were aired for one day only.

The World Wide Fund for Nature (formerly the World Wildlife Fund) triggered a controversy when it ran this campaign just before the eighth anniversary of 9/11. The ad claims that while “one of the worst tragedies in the history of humanity killed 2,819 people”, the 2005 tsunami claimed 100 times more lives. The message is “Our planet is brutally powerful. Respect it. Conserve it.”
The WWF initially said it had not signed off on the spot, although it later changed its position and issued a joint apology with the Brazilian agency responsible for producing it.
The Nicolas Hulot Foundation, Défi pour la Terre

Also drawing parallels with nature, this French environmental group came up with this print ad, claiming that “for nature, everyday is 9/11”.
Khaleej Times

Dubai’s daily English-language newspaper ran this promotion in 2007. It reads: “5.4 million die of smoking-related causes every year. That’s 2,000 times a 9/11.”

In a similar way, French humanitarian organisation Solidarités takes on the dangers of unsafe water. “Non-drinking water kills 8 millions persons a year (sic)” it says, or 2,000 times more than died in 9/11 and the sinking of the Titanic combined.

The American beer brought out a clip screened during the 2002 Superbowl, when a 30-second TV spot can cost millions of dollars. The brewer, Anheuser-Busch, announced before it went on air that it would only broadcast the spot once as it did not want to “benefit financially” from it.
Budweiser billed the spot as a ‘tribute’ to the victims of 9/11. The Budweiser logo appears at the end, drawing criticism from some that it intended nonetheless to portray the beer as the ‘patriotic beer for the American people’ and that a unique airing can sometimes have more marketing impact than repetitive advertising as it is regarded as an exceptional event.
Courrier International

The French newspaper, which publishes translations of articles from more than 900 international publications said in advance of its print ad that it would withdraw it if it caused widespread offence. It shows two planes flying over a shorter version of the Twin Towers, along with the slogan ‘Learn to anticipate’. Rather than trying to say it could have prevented the attacks, the weekly newspaper claims it is pointing out the coverage of the terrorist threat to the US that it was printing before 9/11. If people had been fully informed, goes the argument, they would not have been so surprised.
The Moscow News

The Russian English-language newspaper also uses 9/11 images to promote its content. ‘Things hard to explain, in a language you understand’ reads the slogan.
El Pais

The Spanish daily presents a ‘spot the mistake’ version of 9/11. “If you read El Pais,” it says in the text at the bottom of the ad, “you would have noticed that the first attack on the World Trade Center was on the North Tower, that the impact wasn’t in the middle floors but in the upper ones, and that the other tower was impacted by a commercial plane and not a Hercules, and besides, the Transamerica Pyramid is in San Francisco and not in New York.” It then adds “Remember there’s something worst (sic) than not being informed and that is believing you are.”
HUMO Magazine

“Reading HUMO can have serious consequences.” The less said about this ad for a Belgian radio and television show, the better.

The coffee shop company’s 2002 posters, advertising Starbucks’ new citrus drinks, were removed prematurely after several complaints in the US and Canada. The word ‘collapse’ next to two tall objects with a foreign object flying towards them was interpreted by some as a visual reference to the attacks. The company issued a statement explaining that the concept of the poster was to create “a somewhat magical place“ and that the headline ‘collapse into cool’ “was meant to conjure up feelings of cooling off on a hot day.”

A campaign in Chile for BIC, which makes correction fluid, was banned shortly after its launch. The caption claims that ‘there are images we would rather erase.’ The poster was part of a series depicting disturbing news images.

The IT solutions company presented a picture of the Twin Towers inside a computer motherboard, with the slogan “Some day your computer might become a target.”

The toy brick-maker created a mock-up of lower Manhattan on 9/11 with the simple slogan “Rebuild it.”

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