DDB Brazil's 9/11 Ad: A World of Trouble


Thanks to the healthcare debate, it's been a summer of outrage, with kooks coming out of the woodwork to issue dumb, mean-spirited attacks. I don't want to further inflame any delicate sensibilities, but we now have a corollary batshit-crazy situation in the ad industry: the scandal involving DDB Brazil's tasteless (yet award-winning) 9/11-themed print ad for the World Wildlife Fund.

The level of mega-stupidity the entire scenario has achieved, and the embarrassing and tortured apologies and backpedalling by agency and client, created a vortex that could swallow up half the Earth. In a slow news week, just days before the eighth anniversary of 9/11, it's been the gift that keeps on giving for bloggers, the mainstream media and even Keith Olbermann. (And I want to point out that our sister site,, was the first to report on the ad after seeing it among the work collected on

Let's start with the ad itself -- the little pro-bono ad that couldn't.

It shows dozens of planes flying into Lower Manhattan, with a skyline that looks like it's from 1953 (though restored to include the World Trade Center towers) and copy that reads: "The tsunami killed 100 times more people than 9/11. The planet is brutally powerful. Respect it. Preserve it." Pity that little black-and-white panda in the logo. (Poor, poor panda!)

It couldn't possibly be comparing the terrorist attacks of 9/11 with an act of nature, could it? That's like comparing dirty bombs and oranges. (Some scientists wonder if global warming might eventually make tsunamis worse, but it's hardly an established fact.) Is the ad also suggesting the tsunami victims somehow mattered more than those killed on 9/11? The mind reels.

A friend said she thought it was a good use of Photoshop, but that's about the only compliment it'll get. Aside from being offensive and cringe-worthy, it's also just an ugly and dumb piece of creative, scoring high on the "gratuitous use of tragedy to make a nonsensical argument" meter.

As the blogs started picking up the item on Tuesday, the official "We are shocked! Shocked!" responses came flooding in.

"We are utterly appalled," said Leslie Aun, a WWF spokeswoman in the U.S. "This ad is not something that anyone in our organization would ever have signed off on."

DDB Brazil apologized, and said the creatives who made the ad were no longer employed at the agency.

Olbermann weighed in on Tuesday night on his MSNBC show, making DDB Brazil staff his collective choice for "Worst Person in the World" that day.

DDB Brazil then, belatedly, claimed the local branch of the WFF had actually approved the ad. The agency eventually posted a statement of apology on its Web site, signed by DDB Brazil and WWF Brazil, with each taking some of the blame, and saying the whole thing never should have happened.

But of course it did happen. And just as embarrassingly, it emerged that the ad won a certificate of merit, now withdrawn, at The One Show this year for supposed public service.

"We don't censor judges," David Baldwin, former chairman of The One Club, told me. "We as an organization are incredibly careful in checking. We saw a tear sheet from a newspaper. We know that the ad ran."

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