We wrote about Tumbledown Trails’ offensive 9/11 marketing ploy this week, and while it looks like they’ve learned their lesson, they’re far from the only ones to go down this dark road. In fact, the practice of using 9/11 to advertise products became so prevalent this year that The Atlantic coined a new term to describe all of the incidents: “Advermorial.”

Joining Tumbledown Trails on the list of offenders is Pretzel Crisps, a chip brand that proudly flaunted their American flag made of red, white, and blue Pretzel Crisps in memory of 9/11.

pretzel crisps 911 offensive marketing

pretzel crisps 911 offensive marketing

After a fierce and swift backlash, Pretzel Crisps quickly backpedaled and offered an apology.

We truly did not mean to use this day as a way to put the brand at the forefront. We aimed to show our support to the heroes who fight and those who have lost their lives fighting for our freedom. We apologize but this is not meant to offend.

Then there’s the local Marriott hotel that offered complimentary coffee and muffins from 8:45-9:15 in remembrance of 9/11.

marriott 911 offensive memorial

marriott 911 offensive memorial

After being picked up by The Huffington Post, Marriott offered an embarrassed apology.

We are aware of the picture that was tweeted. It shows an offer that was made independently by the hotel and not the Marriott Hotels brand. As far as we know, it was limited to one property. While the hotel was making a sympathetic gesture to its guests in remembrance of 9/11, we apologize and understand why some people may have misunderstood the intent of the offer. We are reminding our hotels to use discretion and be sensitive when remembering major events such as 9/11.

Most notably, AT&T posted a photo of a phone displaying the lights of the 9/11 memorial.

att 911 offensive marketing

att 911 offensive marketing

This ad was dubbed by Buzzfeed as “without a doubt the tackiest 9/11 memorial on the Internet.” We’re inclined to agree, and so did the Twitterverse, prompting AT&T to delete the photo and offer an apology.

We apologize to anyone who felt our post was in poor taste. The image was solely meant to pay respect to those affected by the 9/11 tragedy.

Even AT&T’s CEO Randall Stephenson offered a personal apology on the company’s consumer blog, lamenting that AT&T “fell woefully short of honoring the lives lost on that tragic day.”

As a very public company, AT&T drew the most fire for its poorly designed advermorial, but if an award for the absolute worst 9/11 ad existed, Genco Peptides would have it. The company shared a discount of 29.96% in honor of the 2,996 lives lost on 9/11, complete with a coupon code.

genco peptides 911 offensive marketing

genco peptides 911 offensive marketing

There are no words.

Though there is clearly great potential to offend with self-serving memorials, the lesson here is not that brands should completely avoid commenting on tragedy. Companies are run by people, not robots, and people feel the need to remember and share together. And though the bad examples of 9/11 remembrance seen the most press, we’ve seen that there’s also a right way to do brand memorials with brands that paid respectful tribute.

For example, the American Red Cross, which was deeply involved in relief efforts and aid following the attacks, offered a simple, selfless remembrance.

red cross 911 memorial

red cross 911 memorial

Macy’s encouraged Twitter followers to remember 9/11 by celebrating life and imagining a better world without a a single mention or photo of products.

macys 911 memorial

macys 911 memorial

Others, like Chick-fil-A and Brooks Brothers steered clear of promoting their products, offering simple memorials that reflected positively on their brands. This is the right way for brands remember.

chickfila 911 memorial

chickfila 911 memorial

brooks brothers 911 memorial

brooks brothers 911 memorial

When commemorating tragedy as a brand, or even an individual, take a lesson from the brands that did 9/11 right this year. Show respect for the weight of the day, and be extremely careful to avoid making your remembrance self-serving. A simple mention, comment, or inspiration for the day will serve your brand’s reputation far better than a tacky advermorial.

Photo of Joseph Torrillo
About the Author

Born and proudly raised in Syracuse, NY, Joseph joined the team in 2008 as the Director of Reputation Management after earning his B.S. in Public Policy. He is now the Vice President of the department.

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