Companies Should Honor 9/11

Sep 9, 2011 5:15 PM ET

What Do You Stand For?

There has been an intense spotlight on American companies in the last few weeks and whether and how they will pay remembrance to September 11 in a public way. Stories in The New York Times*, PRWeek and Marketing Daily, to name a few, tackled the question head on, peppered with challenging language, such as “insensitive,” “exploitative” and “taboo.” No question this is a precarious situation for brands. Society will scrutinize those that implement 9/11-focused campaigns and communications, concerned they are capitalizing on the tragedy, while questioning those who choose to remain silent. And although some efforts seem to have passed the sensitivity test so far, such as American Express’ support of the “I Will” tribute campaign or Home Depot’s “Celebration of Service,” at least one U.S. company has gotten slammed and a few more international advertisements have been deemed outright tasteless.

In this country, we ask our companies to be good citizens. And on the anniversary of this tragic date, all citizens will be paying tribute, in their own ways, to the lives lost and changed 10 years ago. It would seem appropriate that companies stand with the nation and share opportunities for service and remembrance.

Cone’s Executive Vice President Craig Bida says five fundamental principles of cause branding will help ensure 9/11 campaigns maintain integrity:

1. Be authentic: Make sure you deeply understand your brand’s unique equity, mission, purpose and values, and act in a way that supports these.
2. Embrace risk: Leadership today is about standing up AND standing for something. This may mean taking on difficult or controversial issues. Remember, there was a time when breast cancer, AIDS and a host of other issues that are now part of our daily fabric were taboo.
3. Be unique: Develop your own take on an issue, identifying a specific challenge that you want to help solve. For example, supporting military families is broad; providing scholarships to families impacted by military service, is more specific and actionable.
4. Don’t go it alone: Nonprofit partners provide critical credentialing and expertise in achieving social impact. Given concerns about exploitation and 9/11-related marketing, this support is even more critical than usual.
5. Communicate impact: Consumers want to know what you are doing to drive change and how their support for your brand will translate into action. Be clear about your impact and think carefully whether this will be perceived as meaningful and actionable by consumers and other stakeholders.

To read Craig Bida’s full POV on marketing during 9/11, please visit the Thought Leaders Blog.

On a final note, we at Cone stand with the rest of the country this weekend to honor the September 11 victims, survivors and first responders.