Hill Holliday CEO Criticizes Anheuser-Busch 9/11 Spot

Blog Post By Mike Sheehan Says Repurposed Ad Felt 'Wrong'

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Mike Sheehan, the longtime CEO of Hill Holliday -- the shop that created Anheuser-Busch's original 9/11 tribute spot that aired on the Super Bowl -- has taken to the agency's blog to voice his disapproval of the brewer's decision to repurpose the Clydesdales ad and use it for the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks this past weekend.

The sentiment was relayed in an uncharacteristically plain-spoken missive from the CEO of the Boston-based agency -- or most any agency CEO, really, when it comes to criticizing a big advertiser like A-B InBev. Mr. Sheehan recalled the considerations that Hill Holliday put into making the original spot to ensure it was respectful, and then noted that he was disappointed to see the same spot used again, with minor tweaks, such as brighter coloring and swapping out snow on the horse-trodden ground for grass.

"The hallmark of sending a meaningful personal message is that you only need to say it once," he wrote in the blog post, which can be seen here. "So I have to admit that I was a bit disappointed to see the spot resurrected, re-edited, and re-purposed for the 10-year anniversary of 9/11. I do not own the spot and it's not my decision whether or not it should ever run again. And I know absolutely nothing about what it takes to run a successful brewery. But when it popped up on this Sunday's NFL games, it just felt a tad bit, well, wrong. The snow on the ground in the original spot was never meant to be swept away, replaced by what appears to be a computer's idea of Pro-Turf. Just because you can, doesn't mean you should."

'Clydesdale' 9/11 ads
'Clydesdale' 9/11 ads

He defended, though, the notion of advertising for the anniversary of 9/11 -- noting that it's the right of companies to express their feelings, but he just wished that A-B InBev had "started from scratch" with its ad.

For its part, A-B InBev defends the spot, and the small changes that were made to it.

"We feel our 9/11 Clydesdales tribute ad is very special," Paul Chibe, VP-marketing at Anheuser-Busch, said in a statement. "We were proud to re-air the spot on Sunday, the 10th anniversary, as a way to help raise awareness of the fundraising campaign for the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. The subtle changes in the ad were intended to reflect the passing of time, and the most important point, that we should never forget those lost and affected by 9/11."

It turns out that the most important contingent -- consumers -- either weren't aware of the fact the spot was essentially a redo of the original or don't care. An Ace Metrix poll shows that the Clydesdale spot got the highest marks of all the 9/11-themed ads, though they generally seemed to like all of them.

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