Advertising Tributes to 9-11

American Airlines ran this ad following the attacks of September 11, 2001.

In the wake of September 11, 2001, advertisers struggled to find the right tone in their communications. It didn’t seem appropriate to try to be funny following the devastating terrorist attacks that took nearly 3,000 lives. But it was also difficult to appear serious and sincere while promoting a commercial venture.

Sympathy Ads

The vast majority of print advertising that ran in the immediate aftermath offered sympathy and condolences. Businesses that had been located in the World Trade Center expressed remorse over the loss of their employees and vowed to continue.

I was amazed to see the variety of condolence ads that came from countries all over the world, including the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia where the majority of hijackers were originally from. For a while I saved a file with many of these ads, but it got to be overwhelming. I now wish I had some of them to post a few images for you.

Life—and even advertising—had to go on.

Companies wanted to somehow pay respectful tribute to the lives lost. But advertisers struggled to find a middle ground between appearing mawkish and maudlin on one hand, and manipulative on the other. No one wanted to look insensitive, or worse—as though they were attempting to profit from the deaths of innocents.

Here are some of the better ads that ran in response to 9-11 and the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It’s fitting that they’re from two businesses that suffered directly from the attacks: American and United Airlines.

“Proud to bear the name American”

“We Are United”

During the Superbowl broadcast in 2005, with war raging in Iraq as well as Afghanistan, Anheuser-Busch aired “Applause,” in which troops were cheered as they arrived home at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). The spot was a huge hit with viewers.

“Applause”

American Airlines also aired a spot in 2010 in honor of U.S. military personnel.

“Thank You”

Other companies and organizations have not been as sensitive or tactful in dealing with the attacks, but that’s a post for another day. What’s your reaction to these? Respectful or merely opportunistic? Are there any ads you can recall about 9-11 advertising that made a lasting impression?

11 Responses to Advertising Tributes to 9-11

  1. As a non American I often find American TV ads to be a little fake, a little cheesy, obvious and Hollywood. Where as British ads tend to be a bit more tongue in cheeky, sarcastic or obscure. The Europeans tend to like a lot of naked women in their ads, and the Aussies fall back on sport and real men being men, doing manly things.

    Did these ads move me? A little bit, but they also made me gag. Especially when it comes to the troops. Sadly though I respect they’re risking their lives, it’s hard to thank them when you don’t believe in the cause.

    Thought provoking stuff. Thanks for posting.

  2. As someone who’s worked in advertising, I have “lived” the dilemma and appreciate your efforts to distinguish those who got it right…it was a difficult topic to handle but ignoring it would have been worse.

    Thank you for your insight.

  3. Devinelines and Kate… you just got me thinking… especially Kate…

  4. Applause was my favorite ad running during that time. While being at war is never optimal and one can debate endlessly whether our troops should be in Iraq or Afghanistan, the video, for me, was more about respect for our military.

    • Thanks, Paula. I saw a comment or two on YouTube regarding the “Applause” spot, basically saying that they just wished people would actually do that (applaud). Well, I’ve seen it happen: I was part of an airport homecoming for a “kid” I know who returned from a tour of duty in Iraq, and it was quite a moving experience. A lot of people who didn’t know him joined in. I have a lot of respect for those who volunteer to serve, wherever they get sent. Good people can also disagree about whether we should be there.

  5. Very heart warming post. I watched each video

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