North America

AT&T makes controversial connection to 9/11 anniversary

With a single tweet, AT&T created a firestorm over an ill-received tie-in to the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Close to noon on Wednesday, the company posted on Twitter a photo of a hand holding up a smartphone, with the screen displaying the Tribute in Light, two light beams on the site of the twin towers.
Social media users quickly responded with vitriol, accusing AT&T of a "disgusting," "tacky" and "shameless" marketing tactic.
In a pointed yet less venomous response than many, Lauren Indvik, tweeting under @laureni, summed up: "Not an occasion for product placement, AT&T."
Some social media users defended the company, saying they weren't offended and that the image was a fitting tribute.
AT&T removed the controversial picture.
"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," the company said via its Twitter handle @AT&T. It sent USA TODAY the same response when asked to comment.
It wasn't the first promotional gaffe linked to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, which took nearly 3,000 lives.
Near Madison, Wis., the Tumbledown Trails Golf Course recently offered a "12th anniversary of 9/11" special: a nine-round golf game for $9.11 or 18 rounds for $19.11. That was until course owner Marc Watts received death threats and apologized after a social media backlash that required protection from sheriff's deputies.
"We're a little hurt by the fact that people are putting such a negative context on this," Watts said.
Other marketers have been criticized for 9/11-related promotions.
Two years ago, fitness chain New York Sports Club offered reduced-fee memberships to 9/11 first responders, drawing outrage from people who said the gym was using a national tragedy to make money.
Yet marketers continue to put out corporate messages in relation to the anniversary. On Wednesday, brands such as Macy's, Walgreens and even Huggies were among the many that sent 9/11-related tweets.
Huggies tweeted: "Today we remember the victims of the tragedy that struck our country and salute the brave men & women who risked their lives to save others."
Even if a company's 9/11-related communications are sincere, they can look off when viewed in a larger context. These messages are next to each other in Red Lobster's Twitter updates Wednesday.
• #EndlessShrimp just got more delicious. Hurry in to enjoy 7 flavors like Popcorn Shrimp, Coconut Bites & Garlic-Grilled Shrimp! Ends soon!
• We want to take today to remember those that protect and serve us each and every day. Thank you.
On Wednesday, comedian Joe Mande drew much attention to his own Twitter feed, @JoeMande, by retweeting corporate messages tied to 9/11.

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