Ad of the Day: State Farm

Spike Lee honors New York firefighters, but not everyone loved Sunday's 9/11 tributes

State Farm, Verizon, and Budweiser were among the companies that aired 9/11 tribute commercials during NFL games on Sunday. How you felt about them—and they were certainly seeking a reaction, preferably a misty-eyed one—may have depended on your general view of the role and scope of corporate messaging. If you feel that big companies have every right to share and comment on the experience of public life, you probably loved them. If you feel their perspective is always skewed and self-interested, and that any expression of sympathy is therefore unreliable or even exploitative, you probably hated them.

Or perhaps it's not that black and white. Judging by the reactions on Twitter and elsewhere, for many viewers it seems to come down to execution. Right or wrong, a nicely produced commercial can be celebrated as a lovely tribute—a poorly produced one can be slammed as profiteering. For many, the motive almost doesn't matter—if the message is rendered beautifully enough, they'll give the company the benefit of the doubt.

Of the three advertisers, State Farm gets points for putting in the most work. It produced a brand-new spot, as opposed to Bud and Verizon, whose ads were repurposed from ones that aired years ago. State Farm brought in Spike Lee, who filmed nearly 150 schoolchildren, ages 8-11, from the New York City area, showing them visiting four firehouses and thanking firefighters with their own version of Jay-Z and Alicia Keys' song "Empire State of Mind." The spot is full of loving New York imagery, closing on the new 9/11 memorial and the words "Never forgotten. Forever grateful." To its fans, the ad is poignant and adorable. To its critics, the use of children just adds to the unpleasantness of it.

Of the other two spots, Budweiser's earned more plaudits. The brewer reprised—with a twist—one of its most well-received Super Bowl ads of all time: the spot from February 2002 in which the Clydesdales visit New York and kneel before Ground Zero. The new version shows One World Trade Center under construction in the background. For whatever mysterious reason, people can't resist the Clydesdales. And the subtle change to the spot is a nice idea deftly handled—a wonderful touch, unless, you know, you thought the whole thing was manipulative and despicable.

The Verizon spot seemed to get the worst reaction of the bunch. The images of children (yes, once again, it's children) and the Statue of Liberty seem like borderline stock footage—a tribute that feels all too perfunctory, and thus not a tribute at all.

Cynics will make one final damning point—two of the three advertisers, Verizon and Anheuser-Busch, are NFL marketing partners. (State Farm used to be an official partner, but is no longer.)  They got to look more compassionate than their competitors simply by signing a check. In a way, they bought the rights to 9/11—a commercial transaction on what was supposed to be sacred ground.

CREDITS:

Client: State Farm

Agency: DDB, Chicago

Chairman: Bob Scarpelli

Chief Creative Officer: Ewan Paterson

Group Creative Director: Barry Burdiak

Creative Director: John Hayes

Creative Director: Geoff McCartney

Art Director: Gordon West

Executive Director of Integrated Production: Diane Jackson

Executive Producer: Scott Kemper

Production Business Manager: Lindsay Vetter

Music Producer and Integration: Eric David Johnson/DJ Bunny Ears

Music Production Manager: Linda Bres

Broadcast Talent Manager: Rubye Hardy

Production Company: Pony Show

Director: Spike Lee

DP: Ellen Kuras

Executive Producer: Susan Kirson