September 11 2013 marked the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. The hastag #NeverForget trended on twitter and many users as well as business tweeted ‘mourning’ tweets meant to honor the fallen and cherish their lives. Telecommunications giant, AT&T, joined in the wave of tweets and posted a picture of a smartphone capturing an image of a darkened New York skyline with the Tribute in Light. The response however was tremendously bad.
The Tribute in Light is an annual art installation next to the site of the World Trade Center. It features 88 searchlights beaming light vertically to create 2 columns of light. When AT&T tweeted the picture, social media users felt the company’s move was unbelievable. It received strong backlash in form of angry tweets and status updates. Users all around the world deemed the move to be ‘tacky’ and capitalizing a day for tribute. Many felt it was wrongful marketing and said that #NeverForget tweets were no place for ‘product placement’.
Within an hour, the company removed the tweet and apologized for any misunderstanding. AT&T tweeted, “We apologize to anyone who felt our post was in poor taste. The image was solely meant to pay respect to those affected by the 9/11 tragedy.” Still, social media users criticised the company and were not impressed by the apology tweet. A veteran public relations consultant and senior instructor at the University of Washington felt that the tweet was too commercial. He said, “It’s not that it was so offensive, but it took a very commercial turn on a day of remembrance when we’re not thinking about selling products, we’re thinking about the state of our world.” “In that respect it was inappropriate,” he added.
Another business that seemed to be ‘promoting’ the day was hotel chain Marriot. A Reddit user uploaded a sign in a Marriot hotel that said “In remembrance of those we lost on 9/11, the hotel will provide complimentary coffee and mini muffins from 8:45 – 9:15 am.” They too tweeted an apology after the incident.