Advertisers Aren't Afraid to Exploit the Sept. 11 Attacks -- Outside the U.S.

Last Updated Sep 15, 2010 9:00 AM EDT

With the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks just days away, you'd think there would be no need to remind anyone that cashing in on the World Trade Center disaster as an advertising device is a bad idea. But there is -- outside the United States.

Saatchi & Saatchi France produced this offensive 9/11 ad for Courrier International, a French newsweekly (click to enlarge). The "joke" in the ad is that if only the builders of the twin towers had learned to anticipate things, then they'd have been shorter and the planes would have missed. The ad is specifically promoting a CI edition focusing on the Israel-Palestine conflict, with the headline: "Gaza will be our Vietnam." The implication seems to be that if only the U.S. and Israel had pursued different policies with the Palestinians ... well, you get the idea.

If you're reading this, you're probably an American, in which case I have even worse news for you: In foreign countries, using the Sept. 11 attacks in ads is quite common. The ad blog Copyranter has a running archive of 9/11-ploitation ads from abroad, including anti-smoking ads from Dubai and New Zealand (image below), another French ad for a water charity (image below), and a World Wildlife Fund ad in Brazil (image at right). In fact, there are few off-limits topics in foreign advertising.

The comments section of the advertising site on which the CI ad was posted give us a look at the sobering number of people who like the ad, or don't care. The first few people to view the ad kinda liked it. Here are some of their comments:

Guest: I can see all the americans getting pissed because of this ad. But you know what, I like the approach of the campaign.

Jack Mancer: Ditto ;p me too.

Guest: I think it communicates that being informed prevent tragedies. Why do people begin by thinking it"s disrespectful ?

Remember, Ads of the World isn't generally read by teenage internet trolls. It's a bookmarked destination for ad agency executives with an international outlook on creativity. It took a while for American readers to fire up their keyboards, but eventually they did:
sloppy4: hey france, shouldnt you be on strike?

Guest: Next one should be a group of Nazi soldiers storming Paris with "Learn to Anticipate". Fucking French.

Guest: Not surprised. Tastelessness and anti-Americanism sells big in paranoid, irrelevant Europe.

Obviously, the ad is a cheap gimmick in poor taste. But there's a business lesson here too, even though U.S. executives won't like hearing it: There are about 6 billion people on the planet, and only 300 million of them are Americans. For the rest of the world -- including your colleagues, competitors and customers in foreign countries -- the darkest hours of our history are far from the center of their cultural radars. As the world grows more interconnected, we're likely to run up against more, not less, of this kind of thing. (Sept. 11 is as important to them as Bastille Day is to you, after all.)

So you'll have a choice about how to react when you come across anti-Americanism abroad. May I suggest that knee-jerk anger against foreigners who hate us -- yes, someone did post a "Cheese eating surrender monkeys!" comment under the CI ad -- doesn't seem to be getting us very far?


Hat tip to Adfreak.