September 10, 2010
The last few days in Chicago have been unbelievably gorgeous. 70 degrees with a cloudless sky the deep blue color of a mailbox. Stunning, perfect weather unlikely bested anywhere in the world. Alas, we Chicagoans know how fleeting these days are. Like Rod Blagojevich, bad weather is never far from Chicago.
But back to those mailbox-blue skies. Unfortunately, for me (and I imagine a lot of people) they are also evocative of something deeply sinister, especially in the context of an urban landscape. It breaks my heart to write this, but the first thing I thought of when I gazed upon the John Hancock building today, silhouetted against such a sky, was September 11, 2001.
The weather here and in New York was equally brilliant that day.
My second daughter, Colette had come into the world four days prior and was only in her new home one day when the world changed forever. At the time, we lived downtown, on East Walton Street, literally in the shadow of the John Hancock Building. I’ll never forget seeing my wife, her new baby in one hand, trying to close the shutters in the event Chicago’s iconic high-rise was destroyed. She thought it would keep the dust out. I didn’t tell her not to bother, that if “they” hit the Hancock we would need more than wood shutters to protect us. I’m not purpling this up for effect. On that morning, in real time, we had no way of knowing if other famous buildings and landmarks were targeted. If they were, the Hancock building would make any shortlist.
And so as beautiful as these last few days have been, they are also bittersweet. The preternaturally blue skies heighten the memory of 9/11… As does the crispness of the air… the skyline…planes.
While talking on the phone today from my office, I stared out and up into the sky, watching an airplane heading toward the airport. So clear and bright was the day, I could make out the United Airlines logo on the plane’s tail. The jet seemed on collision course with each high rise it passed over. It was eerie.
Selfish as it may sound, I was struck by the irony of having such a rare and beautiful early fall day marred by the terribleness of that one just like it nine years ago.
How could they?
For obvious reasons, this mind-bogglingly crass “ad” for the World Wildlife Federation is getting a ton of play. The trades gave it Crispin Porter like attention, as are we in the blogosphere.
That this piece is so clearly a scam ad is beside the point. In five minutes I could pull up a hundred more just as fake. We all could. Scam ads have become the dandelions of our industry. We almost put up with them. Indeed, some of us even adore them. How else do you explain the awards they invariably get, year after year, show after show?
But not this one. This particular artifact, allegedly from DDB Brazil, has too terrible a subject matter for most of us to bear. Using blatant imagery from 9/11 is wildly inappropriate and probably (hopefully) won’t be for decades, if ever. Only the Holocaust compares.
However, I suspect it is not merely the content that riles and disturbs us but rather the way in which it was used. Nature, for all her power is not, and never will be, a murderer. Comparing the arbitrary horror of a tsunami with the man made malevolence of September 11, 2001 is…
Horrendous? Ridiculous? Absurd?
All I can say is what were they thinking? I came up with a startling conclusion: this “ad” was not created to win awards any more than it was made to build awareness for the WWF. I believe the creators made this thing to get attention. For who and why I’m not sure. But they knew it would blow up. And they knew it would blow up in September. They knew.
And for that the perpetrators are guilty of far more than scamming.
Hold on… terrorists? No, not quite. More like hate criminals.
Having proposed this theory, I don’t believe DDB (or any real agency) was responsible for condoning something like this. I’m guessing a handful of morons did it –maybe even just one or two, “acting alone,” as they say.
Of course the perpetrators will be fired…that is if they even have jobs in the first place. I suspect they don’t. Perhaps they were trying to get back at the agency for harms done to them.
So, was this scam ad a hoax? The only other explanation would be to attribute complete ignorance on the part of the creators, which, all cynicism aside, I’m having trouble accepting.
Either way, the “ad” made Keith Olbermann’s “Worst persons in the World” list, in which he actually names numerous creative staff from the agency.
Update: Adfreak has a post featuring a series of vague explanations and partial apologies, which seem to render both agency and client culpable. I still think it was mad men acting alone!