Advertising against a tragic event is a delicate calculation for American companies. Do they acknowledge the occasion and invite accusations of being opportunistic? Do they stay silent and risk appearing out of touch or unpatriotic? What is the border between commemoration and commercialization?
On Saturday, during a break in an afternoon football game, Budweiser will mark the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks with a commercial showing a team of Clydesdale horses pulling a red Budweiser-branded wagon across the Brooklyn Bridge and down a cobblestone street of Lower Manhattan. In the final image, the horses, standing on the grass of Liberty State Park in Jersey City, N.J., lower their heads before the city skyline, where the Tribute in Light installation is visible against the twilight sky.
The 60-second commercial, which appeared on YouTube on Friday, is an updated version of Budweiser’s “Respect” ad, which first ran during the 2002 Super Bowl, five months after the attacks. The company released that commercial again on the 10th anniversary, in 2011.
The new ad will appear during the CBS broadcast of the college football matchup between the Air Force Falcons and the Navy Midshipmen and once more in the evening, on Fox, during the baseball game between the New York Yankees and the New York Mets.
“By releasing the film sparingly, we preserve the significance of the day and really pay the respect that those that were lost deserve,” said Daniel Blake, a vice president of marketing at Budweiser’s parent company, Anheuser-Busch InBev.
To make its first commercial referencing Sept. 11, shot soon after the attacks, Budweiser received special permission from Congress and Rudolph Giuliani, then the mayor of New York City, to dispatch a helicopter to capture the Clydesdales crossing into the city and bowing toward the skyline from Liberty State Park.
The new version closes with a message in white letters against a black background as a stirring melody plays: “Twenty years later, we’ll never forget.” The company’s logo then shows for seven seconds, along with onscreen mentions of the 9/11 Memorial & Museum and the Never Forget Fund. There is no voice-over narration.
“We wanted to do it obviously in a very subtle way, but it’s important to make sure that people know where the spot is coming from and who’s creating the film itself,” Mr. Blake said.
Budweiser is one of many companies that have made or commissioned ads in commemoration of the tragic day in American history. In 2011, there was a well-received State Farm commercial, directed by Spike Lee, featuring children serenading appreciative New York firefighters with “Empire State of Mind.”
There have also been plenty of gaffes, like the Wisconsin golf course that offered special pricing tied to the date. AT&T deleted a Twitter post with an image of the Tribute in Light installation with the message “Never Forget” as part of a smartphone ad.
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