Reflection or Reaction?

As I sit down to write, the summer is about to close, the air is getting cooler, and the emotions are already brewing. There’s been a lot of talk about last year, about September 11. Individuals all over the world have a vivid recollection of where they were and what they were doing when it all happened.

Last year, no one seemed to know what to do or how to react.

Here we are almost a full year later. Have we made any progress? From reading recent press, participating in industry bulletin boards and online chats, and receiving commentary and questions from clients, I’m not quite sure. It seems everyone is trying to figure out just what to do. The ad industry, online and off-, has been hit particularly hard.

The big question affecting all of us is, should we advertise on September 11? I’m sure many of you are not thinking about this for the first time. It’s also safe to assume many of you have had similar questions from clients like mine. Have you responded? Are you struggling to find the right answer as well?

I asked this question in email form to many people over the past few weeks. My list ranged from sales reps and clients to my boss, peers, and subordinates. No one seemed to be happy to think about this issue. However, everyone felt a certain social and work-related responsibility to do so.

According to The New York Times, “less is more” when it comes to advertising this September 11. As a result, it’s estimated lost ad revenue in the American media on that day will be $50-60 million. Here are some of the major advertisers and their ad decisions for that day:

  • No ads: General Motors, Coca-Cola, HBO, Miller Brewing, Nissan, American Airlines, United Airlines, and Sears, Roebuck, and Co. will not telemarket on that day.

  • Some ads: Ford Motor Co., Procter & Gamble, and Kraft Foods will advertise but not near any news or specials related to September 11, 2001, events.
  • Underwriting or special ads: Some commercial organizations, such as The New York Stock Exchange, General Electric, and Boeing, will underwrite some of the special September 11 coverage or have patriotic ads.

Insight Express conducted a survey addressing this and a bit more. I’d like to thank Doug Adams for sharing these details with me and allowing me to share them with you. Several questions were asked, so there’s an abundance of information. Here’s the top-line recap:

  • Do you think it is inappropriate or disrespectful for companies to advertise (business as usual) this coming September 11th? (Select one)

    • 59.8 percent — No

    • 24.4 percent — Yes
    • 15.8 percent — Not sure/no opinion

  • Do you think it is appropriate for companies to run advertisements in observance/remembrance on September 11th? (Select one)

    • 62.4 percent — Yes

    • 23.1 percent — No
    • 14.4 percent — Not sure/no opinion

  • If you were to see television advertisements this September 11th that are the same ads you see every day, would that make you feel UNCOMFORTABLE? (Select one)

    • 82.2 percent — No

    • 10.0 percent — Yes
    • 7.8 percent — Not sure/no opinion

  • I think showing an everyday advertisement online is acceptable this September 11th.

    • 28.89 percent — Strongly agree

    • 43.78 percent — Agree
    • 15.56 percent — Neither agree or disagree
    • 7.78 percent — Disagree
    • 4.00 percent — Strongly disagree

The UCLA Center for Communication Policy released a study addressing the media role the Internet plays in the tragedy.

According to the founder of the UCLA Internet Project and director of the UCLA Center for Communication Policy, Jeffrey Cole, “Sept. 11 was the first major national crisis since the beginning of the Internet and email. In the aftermath of the attacks, email had a profound influence on how Americans communicate.” Cole continued, “All of this demonstrates that a new era of communication has emerged as people used online technology during one of our most devastating national tragedies. Clearly, the broad emotional support and expressions of concern that email can provide brought users together during a crisis.”

Well put, Jeffrey. This only reinforces the role of the medium. Although I’m not sure where this “new era of communication” will take us, it is imperative for us to do just that — communicate. It’s critical for us as advertisers to show a sense of responsibility, even take time out to remember and reflect. I’m not convinced we should just chuck advertising altogether on that day. Perhaps we can change the way we advertise.

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