The Days After

Sales or solace? After Sept. 11, agencies and their clients grappled with how best to resume advertising. Creatives tried to balance commerce and compassion, and messages of tolerance, hope and unity flooded the media. Some reached inspirational heights; others fell flat. Adweek looks at the best and the worst of the lot.

General Motors
McCann-Erickson, Troy, Mich.

The sun rises over a plain and a voiceover announces, “The flags are back up. They’re playing football again, and thousands of people are once again experiencing the simple joy of …” Music? Friends? Family? Nope. “… buying a new car.” The ad goes on to promote 0 percent financing. Other car makers followed GM’s lead, as did buyers, but telling Amer icans to recover from the tragedy by investing in new wheels feels self serving and crass.

Ogilvy & Mather, New York

Miller’s effort is very similar to the vignettes used in the Ad Council’s “I am an American” spot, with a variety of people holding up signs with messages such as “Amer ica the beautiful,” “I will not be terrorized” and “I will not forget.” But unlike the Ad Council’s effort, this seems slick and manufactured, and borders on a paranoid us-vs.-them mentality that doesn’t sit well.

Office of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani
BBDO, New York

A celebrity-studded pro bono campaign that strikes just the right note with its lighthearted jokes about New York attractions and culture, from Ben Stiller and Kevin Bacon’s earnest faces popping up in response to a woman’s sandwich order (“the Ben Stiller with bacon”) to Barbara Walters’ clumsy attempt at a Broadway audition. The invitation to laugh, as well as the one to visit the city, is warm and heartfelt. So is Mayor Giuliani’s smile.

The Ad Council
GSD&M, Austin, Texas

A wide array of people simply state, “I am an American” in this pro bono effort donated to The Ad Council. The spot ends with the message “E pluri bus unum. … Out of many, one.” Aired just 10 days after the attacks, the message of unity in diversity was strong, refreshingly quiet in its delivery, and healing in a time of confusion.

Fallon, Minneapolis

With simplicity and elegance, the campaign puts a friendly face on the airline. United employees talk about their camaraderie and passion for the job, accompanied by an airy piano rendition of “Rhapsody in Blue” and enhanced by director Errol Morris’ close-ups. The spots make a tempered call for travelers to return to the air, and despite some sappiness, they are sincerely moving.

Burger King
McCaffery Ratner, Gottlieb & Lane, New York

A series of print ads tells the stories of Red Cross workers, firemen, policemen and others who survived the attacks in New York and Washington. In one, officer Isaac Ho’opi’i says, “It was pitch-dark inside. People were calling for help, but they couldn’t see me. So I kept repeating, ‘Come toward my voice.'” The quotes are truly touching. (It’s unfortunate, though, that copy in the two-page version gives top billing to the campaign’s photographer, Richard Avedon.)

Kenneth Cole
Cole also said, “What we stand for is more important than what we stand in,” but this outdoor ad takes his well-known assertiveness one step too far. The patriotic sentiment doesn’t push specific product, but when Afghan refugees barely have the clothes on their backs, the crude butchering of the line calls to mind shallow fashionistas.