Tragedy + Time = Advertising

Wednesday, September 11, 2013 - 01:41 PM

AT&T tweeted a 9/11 themed ad today designed to celebrate the majesty of a recovered New York while subtly reminding social media users about AT&T's elegant,affordable smartphones. 

The response, unsurprisingly, was unanimous outrage. AT&T apologized and deleted the tweet. Online, people vented their anger and then hit refresh on their Twitter feeds.

But maybe it's worth pausing for a second to consider how we got here. The broader context here is that somewhere along the line, the corporate social media class quietly established a convention that any momentous occasion merits a message from their Brand. Comedian Joe Mande assiduously retweets these because they stand as punchlines on their own. Here's today, for instance: 


It's easy (and fun!) to pile on and feel morally superior to Chick-Fil-A, Inc.'s somber hashtagging, and I'd hate to get in the way of that. Corporations should absolutely give their social media managers mandatory vacations on 9/11. But, while we're gleefully policing these conversations, it's worth remembering there are very few ways to talk about 9/11 online that aren't empty, sentimental calories or morbid clickbait. 

Most of the news outlets I love are meeting their obligation to post "9/11 content" today. Buzzfeed has a listicle, Gawker has AT&T related snark, The Times has a panoramic thinkpiece. The conventions for news organizations are, in their way, as proscribed and rote as the conventions for brands. Twelve years later, we have very little left to say, and it's very hard for us not to say it. 


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Comments [5]

dman from USA

We live in new world order of corporate fascism where the old and tired societal norms do not apply. Isn't it old Maggie Thatcher who said "there is no such thing as society?" But to be fair there are probably some people in the audience who listen to this podcast using AT&T and Apple products whose "outrage" is only punctuated by ticker quotes. It takes two to tango so if you don't respect yourself you expect brands do it instead? Personally, after I had an AT&T service bully come on my property without permission or acknowledgment stating that "he has a right to do so," I discontinued the 12 year relationship and the world is better for it. Use your brains and wallets, next time.:)

Sep. 13 2013 02:24 PM
Tony from Westchester

Mark the occasion? yes. But using the remembrance as a marketing tool is in bad form.

Sep. 11 2013 05:37 PM
Vivek from New York

You missed the worst one

Sep. 11 2013 05:15 PM

I agree. I hope I wasn't too false-equivalency here. AT&T, for sure, acted like a bunch of crass, heartless dummies.

Sep. 11 2013 03:14 PM
Chris Scott

I think there is something different from a simple statement of recognizing the day and playing tribute to it and what At&T did. They took the image of the memorial lights and integrated their product into it.

Sep. 11 2013 03:09 PM

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TLDR is a short podcast and blog about the internet by Meredith Haggerty. You can subscribe to the TLDR podcast here. You can follow our blog here. I tweet @manymanywords and @tldr.

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