The 10 Very Worst 9/11-Themed Ads


Yesterday, Copyranter caught an advertisement (pictured right) for French weekly Courrier International. The conceit of the advertisement, by Saatchi & Saatchi France, as put by Copyranter: “The World Trade Center architects should have stopped at about 50 floors. Look! The hijacked planes missed the shorter targets. Yay! Viva la Photoshop!” The timing, three days before the ninth anniversary of September 11th, obviously isn’t great.

Well, here are 10 ads as bad — and worse — than that one:

10. The Moscow News‘ “Hard to Explain” Print Ad. “Things hard to explain, in a language you understand,” the Moscow News advertised in front of a papier-mâché post-crash Twin Towers by advertising giant BBDO. On one hand, it’s pretty, and somewhere deep within the tagline is a message about the messy complexities of geopolitics, an idea that flew by the wayside in the wake of 9/11 for too long. On the other hand, it’s a 9/11-themed advertisement, and that language apparently has something to do with inflaming old Cold War pissiness, apparently. Not cool, Moscow News.

9. The CoBis “Motherboard” Print Ad. “Some day your computer might become a target,” reads IT solutions company CoBis’ cute little chip logo under a mockup of the World Trade Center as part of a motherboard. Except nobody dies when computers get attacked.

8. The “Rebuild It” Lego Print Ad. It’s Lego, so it’s hard to get too angry, but on the other hand, one would think: Of all brands, doesn’t Lego know better than to go for the childhood-trauma/construction-toy-obsessed-adult crossover market? Apparently not. The better ad, here, is obviously to make a Lego version of Park51 and note, simply, that “There’s less hassle this way.” Or something. Still offensive, not tastelessly so, and pretty funny, if I don’t say so myself. I should work in advertising. Not cool, Lego.

7. MTV Magazine (Brazil) and the World Crisis Campaign Print Ads. Sao Paolo’s Age agency is responsible for this series of three public service print ads, the text of which compared the number of deaths on 9/11 to numbers of hunger, poverty, and AIDS. Sure, point taken, but for what still feels like a too-visceral ad in 2010 can’t have gone over well with some people in 2003, only two years after 9/11, when the campaign ran. Also, were three different versions really needed for this?

6. Humo Magazine’s “Distractions” Print Campaign The Belgium have a nuanced sense of humor. Or a bad one. “Reading Humo can have serious consequences” ad agency Duval Guillaume Brussels noted under a picture of two pilots “distracted” by a magazine as they were headed towards the World Trade Center. Except, this isn’t exactly what happened, and even if what happened resembled any kind of accident, still, eh: not so funny.

5. The Nicholas Hulot Foundation’s “Everyday Nature” Print Ad: Oh, the French just love this kind of drama, as the French make multiple appearances on this list. CLM BBDO invoked the iconic image of the towers immediately post-crash for the cause of environmentalism, except again, trees only equal people if you’re watching Avatar, and even then, you’re still like meh. If you’re starting to see a pattern of politicizing one tragedy for another here, well, you’re actually reading.

4. SABC’s “More To See on Radio” Print Ad The agency Draft/FCB came up with this charmer, which notes that, what, you’re better off hearing something than seeing it? Using 9/11 to sell the nature of your product isn’t even smart or effective so much as just ironic: shocking visuals for the sake of shocking and shocking audio for the sake of shocking are simply two different sides of the same shitty coin.

3. The Action on Smoking and Health Campaign’s “Smoking > Terrorism” Print Ad. The New Zealand based anti-smoking campaign takes anti-smoking militarism to a new level by noting the massive difference in size between smoking-related deaths and terrorism-related deaths. Doyle Dane Bernbach, supposedly the most revenue-consuming ad agency in the world, couldn’t do this with a simple Venn diagram? Also, don’t they know? Terrorism. Causes. Smoking.

2. The World Wildlife Fund’s “Tsunami” Print Ad: This thing caused a maelstrom of controversy when it came out last September as a supposed “spec” — or “on speculation” and without publication, for internal purposes only — ad. Whether someone a WWF knew about it or didn’t, the fact is that someone actually thought of this and then made it well knowing if this kind of thing leaked, it’d leak wide. You get the idea: A bunch of airplanes, headed toward New York, as if to re-enlist any old trauma of the worst-worst-worst-case scenario that could’ve been to quantify the amount of people killed by Southeast Asia’s 2004’s Indian Ocean tsunami, and thus, that everyone should behold the power of nature. Instead, everyone ended up beholding the arrogance of ad agencies like DDB Brazil, and setting the perception of aid to Southeast Asia, WWF and the environmental lobby back a few steps in the process, for whom the fallout from the ad was volatile, to say the least.

And the worst of the worst?

1. The World Wildlife Fund’s “Tsunami” Video Ad: After denying any knowledge of a video version of the above ad, as it turns out, everyone knew about it, and it wasn’t about to get buried, especially considering they submitted it to Cannes for awards. DDB tried issuing multiple apologies, blaming themselves for “the inexperience of some professionals on both sides, and not bad faith or disrespect toward American suffering,” but nobody who watched this didn’t think that irrepressible damage had been done not just to causes or agencies, but to the ad industry at-large and thankfully, anyone who had ever attempted to politicize 9/11 as well.