Branding Lessons learned on September 11th

Wednesday marked the 12th anniversary of the September 11th attacks. As in previous years, it was a day of remembrance and support as people came together to reflect on that horrible event and how it changed our world forever. Many companies across the globe showed great respect for the victims and the United States with moments of silence, genuine commentary, as well as acts of generosity and kindness. There were others, however, which displayed lapses in judgment: taking advantage of the anniversary to attract attention to their own brand. It served as a sharp reminder that not every current event should be used as a promotional tool. It also reminded us that thoughtfulness and sensitivity must ultimately be the guiding forces behind any successful brand promotion. On social media, AT&T was recognized as perhaps the worst offender, blatantly using the day to get the word out about a new product. They tweeted a photo of a smartphone replacing the Twin Towers. The response was quite negative, and consumers took to their own Twitter accounts to call the move“tacky” and “disgusting.”Although AT&T quickly apologized for the misstep, at that point the damage was done. Esquire magazine accidentally placed a photo of a man falling to his death from one of the towers next to a headline about a morning commute, a disturbing image for anyone who laid eyes on it. After realizing the error, Esquire took a very different approach than AT&T’s heartfelt apology. Rather than a sentimental “sorry” for a conscious choice or poor site previewing efforts, they told folks to “Relax.” Needless to say: the damage was done. Other failed attempts of drawing attention to their brands include Waffle House tweeting “Never Forget” with no additional context directly next to the restaurant's high-resolution background image of a waffle, and HBO’s encouragement to its fans to "remember all the reasons we love NY" by watching reruns of "Sex and the City." The lesson to companies is clear: think…before you tweet or post. And consider those individuals your acts might hurt or offend. At the end of the day, you want your promotional campaign to trigger genuine emotion. Hopefully, that means curiosity, respect and interest in your brand–not sadness and disgust because you forgot a simple, yet crucial, step in your planning: be compassionate and considerate of others.

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