Two weeks before the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, a consensus seems to be emerging about advertising on that day: less will be more.
Most marketers, agencies and media companies are deciding that they would rather go adless or limit their advertising than risk being perceived as exploiting the day for mercenary purposes.
Among those marketers that will forgo television, print and radio advertising completely on Sept. 11 are blue-chip names like Coca-Cola; General Motors; the HBO unit of AOL Time Warner; Miller Brewing, a division of SABMiller; the Nissan North America division of Nissan Motor; and the Target Stores unit of Target. And some companies, like Sears, Roebuck, are broadly defining what constitutes advertising, and will cease all telemarketing efforts that day.
"The feeling is this is a day to remember and respect, not a day to be commercialized in any way," said Michael Drexler, chief executive at the United States division of Optimedia International in New York, a big media services agency that is part of the Zenith Optimedia Group, owned by the Cordiant Communications Group and the Publicis Groupe.
Steven Wilhite, vice president for marketing at Nissan North America in Gardena, Calif., said the decision to suspend its advertising was a tough one.
On one hand, "we need to get on with our lives and not let a tiny handful of people change who we are and how we behave," he said. But ultimately it was decided that the day would best be devoted to "reflecting on what happened."
Some of the marketers refraining from advertising are companies that were affected directly by the attacks, like the American Airlines unit of AMR and the United Airlines division of UAL.
And most of the companies that are choosing to advertise on Sept. 11, like Ford Motor and Procter & Gamble, will keep their ads away from any coverage related to the anniversary of the attacks. In some instances, companies that routinely ask broadcasters or publishers to alert them if their ads are to appear in programs or articles with so-called sensitive content have added language relating to Sept. 11 to their contracts. "We are going ahead with advertising in those publications that are not focusing on news related to Sept. 11," said Kathy Knuth, a spokeswoman for Kraft Foods in Northfield, Ill., "but will request not to be adjacent to content related to Sept. 11."
The ad cutbacks will extend beyond traditional media like television, radio, newspapers and magazines. For instance, Sears will make no telemarketing calls to consumers to peddle product repair services or warranty protection agreements - and will even suspend calls to collect on overdue credit card bills.
"We've been thinking about this for a long time," said David Selby, senior vice president for marketing at Sears in Hoffman Estates, Ill. "Out of respect for the day and its significance, we see it as the right thing to do." The Seas employees who would normally work as telemarketers that day have the option to work on other assignments or take a day off.
Sears will also suspend television and radio commercials from 6 p.m. Sept. 10 through Sept. 11, and move to other days as many print ads scheduled to run on Sept. 11 as it can. Though Sears stores will be operating that day, there will be a moment of silence as they open, as there will be at all Sears corporate offices, and American flags will be flown at half-staff.
The voluntary curtailment or blackout of advertising on a day devoted to commemoration rather than breaking news is perhaps unprecedented. It will result in media outlets looking on Sept. 11, 2002, largely as they did on Sept. 11, 2001, when they canceled much or all of their advertising.
In some instances, it was the reluctance on the part of advertisers and agencies that led the media companies to reduce or eliminate their ads. In other instances, the media companies, sensing there would be drastically reduced demand, determined they would run few or no ads or would devote the time and space they would normally sell to public service announcements.
Fox News Channel, owned by the News Corporation, will be commercial free on Sept. 11, while CNN, part of AOL Time Warner, will have limited commercial breaks. Larry Goodman, president for sales and marketing at CNN in New York, estimated that his network would have "at least 60 percent less nonprogramming time over all" on Sept. 11 than on a usual day.
Two all-news radio stations in New York owned by the Infinity Broadcasting division of Viacom - WCBS and WINS - will be commercial free from 8 to 11 a.m. on Sept. 11 and possibly longer as they cover the anniversary events.
Also, several national cable networks are suspending regular programming that morning to present memorial and tribute shows, which will run without commercial interruption. They include the Food Network and Home & Garden Television, owned by the E. W. Scripps Company, and four channels owned by the A&E Television Networks: A&E, Biography Channel, History Channel and History International.
"We want to do the right thing, but what is the right thing?" asked Whitney Goig, executive vice president at A&E Television Networks in New York. "We thought it was more sensitive not to carry commercials."
Later in the day, the programming related to the attacks will carry commercials, but "it is possible we are not going to have any major national advertisers on," Mr. Goig said, because "a lot have said, `Move my ads out of the day, out of the sensitive programming.' " A&E Television Networks is owned by the ABC division of the Walt Disney Company, the Hearst Corporation and the NBC unit of General Electric.
At Time magazine in New York, part of the Time Inc. division of AOL Time Warner, Matt Turck, associate publisher, said there would not be much advertising in the section devoted to coverage of the Sept. 11 anniversary. Ads for those marketers that still want to appear in the issue will be moved to other parts of the magazine, Mr. Turck said.
A special 96-page Sept. 11 "commemorative issue" of U.S. News & World Report, owned by the publisher Mortimer B. Zuckerman, which is now being sold at newsstands, carries no paid advertising. On the inside front cover there is a pro bono ad for the Red Cross; the inside back cover carries an ad promoting subscriptions to the magazine.
"We didn't feel it was appropriate" for the issue, with a distribution of 500,000, to carry paid ads, said William Holiber, publisher at U.S. News & World Report.
The regular Sept. 16 issue of the magazine, which will come out Sept. 9, will carry some content from the special issue. But "we'll be very careful when we lay out that issue where we put the ads" because many marketers asked that their ads not be positioned next to the articles related to Sept. 11.
There are some marketers who are willing to sponsor coverage of the anniversary or run commercials and ads. Many are companies that were affected by or sell products and services related to the events of Sept. 11, and many of them had created special ads or sponsorships in the last year to address those circumstances.
For instance, General Electric, which ran special patriotic ads last year, is considering some form of advertising on Sept. 11. Boeing, which built the airplanes for American and United that were hijacked, will sponsor a tribute concert on NBC on Sept. 11.
The New York Stock Exchange, situated near the World Trade Center site, is talking to CNN about sponsoring part of that network's coverage. Nextel, which sponsored a show on CBS presenting videotape of the attacks on the World Trade Center, will sponsor a repeat broadcast of the show on Sept. 11.
The disappearance or curtailment of advertising on Sept. 11, 2001, which continued in most instances through Sept. 15, is estimated to have cost media companies $300 million in ad revenue. An unspecified amount of that was recouped later in 2001 or early this year, but some was never spent, particularly by those advertisers especially hard hit by the attacks like the airlines. A comparable estimate for next month is in the range of $50 million to $60 million.
Stuart Elliott, The New York Times. August 28, 2002
Copyright © 2002 The New York Times Company. All rights reserved.