Just days before the 15th anniversary of 9/11, Americans throughout the country are planning to attend memorials, tributes, and other events meant to honor the victims of the horrific terrorist attacks.
However, companies like Coca-Cola and Walmart thought it would be okay to treat the upcoming day as a commercial holiday to be used in tone-deaf marketing ploys.
A Twitter user known as @online_shawn shared a photo of a 9/11-themed Coca-Cola display he saw inside of a Walmart in Panama City Beach, Florida.
Boxes of Coke, Diet Coke, and Sprite were all arranged to resemble an American flag while boxes of Coke Zero were stacked vertically in front to represent the fallen twin towers.
Above the arrangement was a banner that read, “We Will Never Forget,” in front of the New York City skyline with the Coca-Cola and Walmart logos and 9-11-01 written across the top.
Adding insult to injury, beneath the banner was a sign advertising that all the 12-pack Coca-Cola products used in the display are on sale for $3.33.
Florida c'mon man pic.twitter.com/HU4y2rxgFG— Shawn (@online_shawn) September 6, 2016
What better way to blend patriotism and consumerism, right?
Many Twitter users found the display appalling and expressed sentiments of disappointment and frustration with these companies for stooping so low.
I'm not sure you thought this through, Walmart... pic.twitter.com/0AVTNZ8fTr— Jimmy Rushmore (@JimmyRushmore) September 8, 2016
Shawn’s original tweet has received more than 4,000 likes and nearly 3,000 retweets.
After receiving backlash for the display, Walmart spokesman Charles Crowson told the Orlando Weekly that it had been approved by Coke and Walmart, but was being taken down.
The Washington Post noted that this is far from the first time a company has been slammed for using the national tragedy as a branding strategy. Actually, this has been an issue almost every year since the attack occurred.
Most often, public outcry prompts these companies to remove their posts and issue a formal apology, but the whole debacle could be avoided by simply considering the consequences before posting.
How is it that not one person on these companies’ marketing teams notices how inappropriate their “tributes” are before presenting them to the public?
“We’ve been saying to people, there’s probably no right way to do this,” J. Walker Smith, executive chairman at the Futures Company consultancy reportedly told the New York Times in 2011. “If I were a marketer, I would let the moment pass. Anything you do could be seen as self-serving or disrespectful.”
Businesses don’t necessarily have to ignore 9/11, but their attempts to creatively honor the day just tend to miss the mark.
A subtle social media acknowledgement expressing sympathy and respect would suffice, but please refrain from promoting your product in the process.
Holidays are already commercialized enough, there’s no need to exploit national tragedies too.
Banner Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons user Svein-Magne Tunli