Tragedy + Time = Advertising

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AT&T tweeted a 9/11 themed ad today designed to celebrate the majesty of a recovered New York while subtly reminding social media users about AT&T's elegant,affordable smartphones. 

The response, unsurprisingly, was unanimous outrage. AT&T apologized and deleted the tweet. Online, people vented their anger and then hit refresh on their Twitter feeds.

But maybe it's worth pausing for a second to consider how we got here. The broader context here is that somewhere along the line, the corporate social media class quietly established a convention that any momentous occasion merits a message from their Brand. Comedian Joe Mande assiduously retweets these because they stand as punchlines on their own. Here's today, for instance: 


It's easy (and fun!) to pile on and feel morally superior to Chick-Fil-A, Inc.'s somber hashtagging, and I'd hate to get in the way of that. Corporations should absolutely give their social media managers mandatory vacations on 9/11. But, while we're gleefully policing these conversations, it's worth remembering there are very few ways to talk about 9/11 online that aren't empty, sentimental calories or morbid clickbait. 

Most of the news outlets I love are meeting their obligation to post "9/11 content" today. Buzzfeed has a listicle, Gawker has AT&T related snark, The Times has a panoramic thinkpiece. The conventions for news organizations are, in their way, as proscribed and rote as the conventions for brands. Twelve years later, we have very little left to say, and it's very hard for us not to say it.