Today’s the 15th anniversary of the September 11th attacks, an event that has shaped our nation and has defined my generation. I was 6 years old at the time, and therefore don’t remember much, but I do know that the world drastically changed in 2001.
And yet, when our nation comes together each year to mourn for the countless lives lost, for whatever reason, brands think they need to project themselves into the messages. Since the rise of social media, there’s always two news stories that run the morning of: 1) coverage of the attacks and 2) some stupid brand made an offensive tweet about the attacks.
I still remember the first 9/11 tweet I stumbled across in 2013:
My first thought was: “That’s not going to go over well”. And, of course, it didn’t. The next year, AdWeek ran an article with a list of tweets gone wrong. A list. It seems that some marketers got the message the next year, however, as gone was the list, but AdWeek still had plenty of 9/11 tweets to sift through. They posed the question I had been wondering ever since I was exposed to my first 9/11 marketing message: are 9/11 brand posts appropriate?
I’m usually all for brands playing into real-time events. They’re a great way to add to viral conversations, and show off a brand’s playful side. Responding to a viral Craigslist ad? Go for it. A famous soccer player bites someone? Sure. Creating something that engages with a funny or interesting event and ties your product to it can be extremely profitable- if the content goes viral, you’ve just gotten tons of free publicity. But the event has to be able interact with the brand. If content is too much of a stretch, or is too ‘marketing’, no one will respond to it. And there’s no stretch worse than trying to try a brand to 9/11.
I don’t really get what brands don’t get. This is a national tragedy. People died. People died, and you’re trying to use their innocent deaths to sell stuffed animals, basketball tickets, and masturbation tools. How disgusting. It’s become a yearly tradition to read through the offensive tweet list on September 12th- we’ve even got a head start this year with a mattress sale and a Coca-Cola display. By turning 9/11 into a marketing event, brands have cheapened and soiled the attacks.
I know brands are worried that, by not making some sort of comment on 9/11, they’ll be painted as ‘Un-American’. But I think 9/11 tweets cause much more damage than no tweets. Here, brands, I’ll even write you a statement to give if you get called out for not tweeting: “We believe that September 11th should be a day of remembrance, and chose to refrain from any communications during that time.” Bam. Done.
But if that’s not enough, here’s some advice from me, a ‘digital-native, tech-savvy Millennial’ to any brand that’s trying to figure out its social plan for next year’s anniversary:
This isn’t a National ______ Day, where you can take a cute picture that’s filtered a bunch of times that vaguely has something to do with your brand. This day is not about you. It will never be.