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The 10 most disrespectful 9/11 ads

The 10 most disrespectful 9/11 ads David Zaleski

You would think of all days, Sept. 11 is one marketers wouldn't touch. However, there have been many instances where brands have crossed the line and used 9/11 to further their agendas.

We're counting down the most disrespectful ads ever produced that used 9/11 as a marketing tactic. You'll never believe how far some companies have gone. 

10. ASH (Action on Smoking and Health)

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Trying to put things into perspective is a common marketing tactic, but this ad from ASH (Action on Smoking and Health, a nonprofit action committee) displays imagery that somehow belittles the 9/11 attacks. It's not the worst 9/11 ad, but it was a bad idea all around.

9. The Moscow News

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It's not hard to see why this ad generated controversy. While The Moscow News gets points for creative use of paper art, the depiction is so offensive it's amazing it ever left the drawing board.

8. CoBis IT Security Solutions

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This CoBis "motherboard" ad was published in 2006 and depicts the World Trade Center as microchips on a computer, vulnerable to attack. Ironically, it was this ad that was ultimately pounced upon for its distasteful portrayal of the towers.

7. Solidarites

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This ad from Solidarites tries to communicate a very important message about the world's water crisis, but unfortunately does so by referencing the two most famous examples of mass destruction. The impact was eclipsed by the imagery.

6. AT&T

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This tweet from AT&T is perhaps the most famous example of a big brand completely screwing up a 9/11 marketing attempt. The image successfully offended millions of people due to its blatant product placement. It was pulled that day and the company issued an immediate apology.

5. El Pais (Columbian newspaper)

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Here's an ad that wasn't even trying to hide the Sept. 11 exploitation. It depicts the towers with a variety of inaccuracies, from the location of the impact, to the city it occurred (that's San Francisco in the image). The point: If you read El Pais you would be informed enough to see the errors. It turns out the biggest error for the newspaper was this marketing faux pas.

4. Courrier International

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Yeah, this happened.

3. Ortoborn Matress

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You could argue that this marketing attempt was meant to be sincere and non-offensive, but once again people are rightly outraged by product placement (visual or textual) when referencing Sept. 11.

2. World Wildlife Fund

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It's not hard to see why this ad generated controversy. The striking imagery is, once again, trying to put the destruction and loss of life that occurred on 9/11 in perspective to advocate another cause.

Unfortunately for the World Wildlife Fund, there is such a thing as too soon.

1. Jenburkt Pharmaceuticals

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Finally, here's perhaps the most horrible 9/11 ad ever created, courtesy of Jenburkt, an Indian pharmaceutical company. Go ahead and let all the offensiveness sink-in. I'll wait.

Here's the bottom line: Any mention of 9/11 to honor that date is not a bad thing for a brand. However, when the company injects alternate objectives or products, and uses the event as a sales tactic, it not only faces serious backlash it offends many people. Even over a decade later, this wound is still raw. Be respectful and keep your motives pure.

Cover story image art source here.


David Zaleski is the Media Production Supervisor for iMedia Communications, Inc. and Comexposium USA. He graduated from Loyola Marymount University with a BA in Film & Television Production, specializing in editing, animation, and...

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