Avoiding Unforced Errors

This is a repost of something we shared in 2013. With the 15th anniversary of 9/11 a few days away, it’s a good time to think about avoiding the unforced errors that even sophisticated marketers can make.

The Etiquette of 9/11 Marketing

With the anniversary of September 11, 2001 upon the nation once again, it is interesting to see how commemorations of the tragedy have evolved. The intervening years seem to have softened, somewhat, the intensity of national emotion and  even the amount of organized and institutional attention devoted to the attacks. Still, social media is flooded with users’ thoughts, prayers, and images.

Within this environment, many businesses have also recognized–sometimes at considerable advertising cost–the events of 9/11/01. Most of them have, very appropriately, limited their statements to expressions of sorrow, remembrance, and appreciation for first responders and the nation’s military men and women whose sacrifices today are directly related to what happened on that September morning 12 years ago.


Wrong on so many levels.

This shouldn’t be a difficult communications or branding assignment for a business. Yet, incredibly, a number of otherwise sophisticated corporations (like AT&T, right), have fallen flat on their faces.

In the interest of helping out any dim-witted corporations out there, here’s an easy guide:

  • ACCEPTABLE 9/11 RECOGNITIONS: Those that acknowledge lives lost, sacrifices made, and the service of first responders and the military. Additional messages about the desirability of peace are acceptable. Graphics should be simple, tasteful, and respectful. Using the company logo is OK, but drop any tag line that could be misconstrued (can you imagine: “McDonalds Remembers 9/11. ‘I’m Lovin’ It'”).
  • UNACCEPTABLE 9/11 RECOGNITIONS: Anything that explicitly or implicitly promotes your product or service, or suggests that people spend money as way of honoring the lives lost on that day.


This offer from a golf club in Wisconsin is an example of what not to do. They subsequently apologized, but, honestly, what were they thinking?

The United States is still working through the implications and consequences of 9/11. It will be fascinating to see how the nation marks the anniversary in 25 or 50 years. Businesses would be well-advised to focus their marketing efforts on September 12 and beyond.

About Richard Wells

The Wellynn Group provides senior level counsel in marketing, communications, and public affairs. Hey, and we're nice people, too.
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