Marketing on the 9/11 Anniversary? Don’t

“When in doubt, leave it out.”

This was the sage advice of one of my first journalism professors in college. It served me well in everything from sussing out facts for news stories to drawing up guest lists for family parties. It’s also good advice for brands and organizations to consider as part of their social media policies, and their approach to anniversaries of remembrance like Sept. 11.

This week – 12 years from the attacks of Sept. 11 – we saw far too many businesses using social media to remember the fallen while also making sure you remember their products.

On The Crisis Show, which aired on the anniversary of 9/11, I joined Shel Holtz and host Rich Klein to discuss these efforts. We highlighted some of the more thoughtless attempts to newsjack the 9/11 anniversary, as well as the reactions those efforts engendered. It’s a cautionary tale of how even the best intentions on social media can fail without sound strategy, planning and a crisis response plan.

What we saw on social media on this anniversary was how tone deaf some brands can be, and how few plan for all potential outcomes. The list of offending brands – both exploitative in their efforts and those just trying to mark the day as best they could while failing in the attempt – is too long to include here.

The best advice I can share is beautifully summarized in a short online article in The Atlantic. The writer, Derek Thompson, took a page from my journalism professor’s book and offered one simple rule for advertising on 9/11: Don’t. This rule applies equally well to marketers, social media practitioners and PR pros.

The events of that day still haunt us as a nation. So brands should consider honoring the day with a moment of silence, time off for employees to participate in the National Day of Service Congress called for in 2009 or by making a charitable donation. But don’t market such efforts or your products and services. Those who mourn don’t need to hear from brands on this day.

Next year, when we mark the 13th anniversary of our national loss, I encourage brand managers everywhere to follow the prescient advice of my old professor: When in doubt, leave it out.