A tale of two tragedies: 9/11 and Branding Mistakes

From spoof ads to reality, brands struggle on how to cope with 9/11. September 11th is a day in America’s history in which the twin towers in New York were attacked by terrorists. This terrorist attack catalyzed both unrest and war, and is still one of the iconic days in the year in which Americans reflect on their patriotism and passion for their country.

Personal social media pages often include remembrances, dedications, and candid memories of the day and where they were when the attack occurred. Brands and P.R. professionals have taken to social media and promotion but have not found the perfect marriage between sentiment and marketing. The answer perhaps? There is none.

Let us look at Applebee’s most recent 9/11 post- it is a dirty, worn American flag adorned with the text, “We will never forget. 9.11.01.” It does not contain any marketing or promotional strategy but was still not received well. Numerous replies and retweets with remarks chastising the brand about using 9/11 on their social media signify that the message was not well received. In this particular case study, 9/11 is such a touchy subject that many brands should rather gloss over.


(source: PR Daily)


(source: The Onion)

Another problem for many big brands includes Internet spoofs and editing. I would like to call to your attention a faulty Subway ad, found on the Internet. The ad, which was created a few weeks ago, features two-foot longs representing the twin towers. The special, which would be $9.11, included two-foot long sandwiches. This ad, although created for Internet trolling, misrepresents Subway. This ad was later copied onto hundreds of other websites and the authenticity was called into question. Although it could be confirmed that the ad is indeed a spoof, the ad may have had severe repercussions for the brand Subway.

Today AT&T posted a simple gray scale photo to twitter with the text “Never forget. 9.11.01.” The tweet was considered to be somber and non-promotional, which is a contrast to their promo that ran on 9/11 of the previous year.

After providing you with these examples, many questions remain unanswered. How can a brand best approach national crises and include them in their marketing mix? Is it best to leave tragedies unaddressed- or, rather, to include them in marketing mixes to appeal to the emotional and patriotic American? Ad campaigns and marketing campaigns should proceed with caution when dealing with traumatic crises: especially if these crises are deeply rooted in American patriotism.

New Subway Promotion To Honor Subtember 11. (2013, September 6). The Onion. Retrieved September 11, 2014, from http://www.theonion.com/articles/new-subway-promotion-to-honor-subtember-11,33768/

Wilson, M. (2014, September 11). Have brands learned their lesson about mixing tragedy with marketing?. PR Daily News: Public Relations news and marketing in the age of social media. Retrieved September 11, 2014, from http://www.prdaily.com/Main/Articles/17245.aspx

3 thoughts on “A tale of two tragedies: 9/11 and Branding Mistakes

  1. I don’t feel brands have anything they can say. There is such a struggle of coming up with something to say that nothing should be said at all. It is a day of remembrance and it should be done so without corporate input and just reflection from individuals.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I don’t think there is a good way for companies to use something like 9/11 and incorporate it into their marketing mix. That being said, I don’t see anything wrong with Applebee’s or AT&T posting a “never forget” message on social media. By doing that they are just showing respect in a way that most Americans do every year. To actually try and creating a marketing plan or idea centered around 9/11, however, is not something that a company should try to do. This makes it seem as though they are taking advantage of a great tragedy in order to increase their sales, which would be extremely insensitive and immoral.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. There were so many bad advertisements that use 9/11 as the subject to help them sell more products. 9/11 isn’t something that should be celebrated with a sale. It was a national tragedy and the fact that companies are using it as a way to sell products is terrible. The Onion joking about it isn’t entertaining either.

    Liked by 1 person

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