Sept. 11: One Year Later

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Last year around this time, this magazine’s editors, along with everyone else, struggled with what to say in the aftermath of what happened to this city and to the world on September 11. In the face of those events, after all, what did any of it mean, especially in the world of advertising.

How do you write about ads? How do you write ads? But you do -- you write the first one, then you write the next one. And then, apparently, if the ads we’ve seen in the last 10 months or so are any indication, you just get on with it. Which, to its credit, this industry did.

The ads that were made immediately after September 11 attempted, with various degrees of success, to say something about the tragedy in the context of the company paying for the message. Some companies misstepped, but many were judged way too harshly for their efforts. Yes, any company daring to invoke that day takes a big risk -- here, feel sad/patriotic, now buy a car. But some (Visa with its "Broadway Poem," for example) made ads that probably made a lot of people think and feel something about the city, or about something. And after the initial shock, it's better than silence, isn't it? And now, a year on, corporations struggle with how to portray themselves in juxtaposition to the anniversary of that day. Daily, agencies are charged with the job of throwing emotional ladders from huge corporations to individuals. Why not try to do this now?

In the meantime, it's hard to make any sweeping generalizations about how, if at all, creativity has changed after last September. Does it reflect a kinder gentler world peopled by more violence-averse citizens? Nah. A look at the wider world of information, entertainment and general pop culture would also seem to indicate that it’s more or less business as usual; movies, videogames, TV series (aside from an unsettling trend toward gee whiz "family" shows on the networks' fall schedules) don't seem to have changed much. And the news? A recent Variety story reported that after a brief flirtation with covering substantial matter with international import, news organizations were largely back to doing what they did best -- local drama, abductions of girls and the like. A report cited in the mag compared the coverage of network news morning shows from June and July 2001 and June and July 2002, and found that while 324 minutes were devoted to the Chandra Levy disappearance last summer, this year, 354 minutes were dedicated to coverage of the abduction of girls in Utah and California.

No, in advertising and in other cultural milieux, there has been no death of irony, no death of dogs humping legs, no death of violent comedy, no death of celebrity worship, and much as we’d like to say there was a death of innocence, that corpse had fossilized long ago. In ads, it's probably a good thing, as corporate America struggles with changes that started before Sepetember 11, the devastation of that day and the uncertainty of the future. So again, what's it all mean if nothing has changed? Most people will agree, a great deal has changed. Many people now have a different filter on their vision, one that will never allow them to look at things exactly the same way again. The person looking for change had best look beyond ads and TV shows and at what people and corporations and governments are doing to start understanding the balance and interconnectedness of life circa September 2002. One year later, a return to "normal" is good in ads, and not so good in other areas of endeavor.

(Teressa Iezzi is the editor of Creativity.)

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