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Advertisers Abandon Usual Sales Message in Crisis - 2001-09-18

After the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, many Americans bought newspapers to read the details. The Washington Post printed an extra 150,000 copies on September 12, and sold every one of them.

The news stories and analyses in the Post and other newspapers were not the only content that made us aware of the scope of the tragedies. Many companies that usually use newspapers for aggressive sales pitches bought advertisements that instead contained messages of support to the victims and the rescuers.

The ads began appearing in Thursday's Washington Post.

The full page ad from auto manufacturer BMW and its Washington, D.C., dealers association had a double purpose: "Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families of the recent tragedies. We especially mourn the loss of our dear colleague and friend, Linda Gronlund," said the BMW ad.

Many companies combined their messages of condolences with support for charities providing support in the aftermath of the tragedies. Home Depot, a national chain of stores selling hardware and home improvement products, said this in their ad: "Recently we've been suggesting that you bring your tax rebate to The Home Debate and spend it with us. In light of last Tuesday's tragic events, we want to take that suggestion back and make another one." And the suggestion was to bring the tax rebate to Home Depot to donate it to the September 11 Fund for families affected by the terrorist attacks.

Aon, a risk management and insurance company, was especially affected. The company had offices in the World Trade Center, and 200 of its employees are missing. Aon also is the insurer of many other companies whose offices were destroyed by the terrorist attacks. Chief executive officer Patrick Ryan wrote in a full page ad that "we continue to hope and pray for the safety of our Aon family. Our heartfelt thanks go out to everyone assisting in the rescue operations."

Many of the advertisements responding to the tragedies were striking in their design.

A quarter page ad from Best Buy, an electronics retailer, was entirely blank except for this message: "As you weep, we weep. As you pray, we pray. As you endure. We will endure."

The discount department store chain Kmart had a back page filled with an American flag, in color. The caption read, "Instructions for use: Remove from newspaper. Place in window. Embrace freedom."

And Tuesday, a full page purchased by the bank SunTrust showed a closeup of a $10 bill, modified to show the flag atop the U.S. Treasury building at half staff.

Organizations as well as companies bought advertisements. A full-page ad Sunday from the Council on American-Islamic Relations said "American Muslims unequivocally condemn these vicious and cowardly acts of terrorism. We join with all Americans in calling for the swift apprehension and punishment of the perpetrators of these crimes."

Foreign governments, too, bought ads. Kuwait had a full page ad with this message: "Kuwait Expresses Condolences. And reaffirms its faith in the resilience of the American people. May God bless the souls of the victims and give peace to their families."

The Canadian government bought a full page ad in Monday's Post. It had a photograph of the American and Canadian flags flying side by side, and in the background the crowd attending the memorial service Friday in Ottawa. Its message: "Canadians share the loss of loved ones and friends. We share your outrage, grief, compassion, and resolve. The people of Canada are with you every step of the way. As friends. As neighbors. As family."