National Tragedies Are For People, Not Brands


Here’s the definition of a no-win situation.

A brand using a national tragedy to engage with fans on social networks. The opportunity to offend is very high.

Yesterday, on the 12th anniversary of 9/11, several brands decided to weigh in with their thoughts about the terrorist attacks on that fateful day, including a diaper company, a hotel chain and a few sports organizations. None of them should be proud of their efforts. The flub generating the most heat may have been AT&T.

The brand tweeted out an image of a mobile phone overlaid on the vacant spot occupied by the Twin Towers showing twin beams of light instead of the towers.

They got clobbered. Because the image contain a mobile device many people took that to mean that AT&T was using 9/11 for marketing purposes.

I’m sure they weren’t. But it hardly mattered as Twitter lit up with condemnations.

Marsha Collier, an author and social marketing consultant, wrote to her 78,000 Twitter fans:

“A National tragedy is not a marketing opportunity @ATT”

It got worse from there. Comments on Twitter included:

  • “AT&T went full retard”
  • “Very poor taste!”
  • “This is so gross”
  • “Tacky, mindless marketing”
  • “Ban them!”

Eventually, AT&T removed the image and apologized on Twitter:

“We apologize to anyone who felt our post was in poor taste. The image was solely meant to pay respect to those affected by the 9/11 tragedy.”

The apology only inflamed the situation as the company continued to get pounded for the apology all yesterday afternoon.

Brands always seem to forget the obvious. They aren’t people. They are companies. They spend most of their time promoting products and services so can you blame people for misinterpreting their intentions when they suddenly weigh in on national tragedies? Yes, we live in the engagement age, but most people don’t want brands engaging in that way.

So why do it?

There is no upside. It’s like walking through a minefield. The best thing that can happen is nothing. The worse thing that can happen is you blow yourself to smithereens.

What’s the lesson for brands?

Don’t walk through minefields

And don’t try to participate in national tragedies.


Why Brands Should Resist Participating in National Tragedies

AT&T’s Twitter apology

Digiday’s list of brands tweeting about 9/11

The Atlantic “One Simple Rule for Advertising on 9/11”

One Response to “National Tragedies Are For People, Not Brands”

  1. Reblogged this on VINOD833's BLOG and commented:
    is it needed or not

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