Defending the Super Bowl ad

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February 15, 2016

10:14 PM

I remember exactly where I was on September 11th, 2001. For some reason, the detail that sticks out most is the fact that my five-year-old self was extremely confused about why I was being hustled into my mom’s car in the middle of my snack break. I did not even get to fully zip my Scooby-Doo lunch box before being swept up by my teacher. I do not remember being told what happened, or why it mattered. I do not remember why everyone seemed so disoriented, or why the phone rang so frequently. There is not a distinct moment in time where I learned the significance of that day in history, but I grew up in a world that was irrevocably changed as a result of a single, incomprehensible tragedy. My life changed, my world changed, my country changed, and its history changed.

Colonial Williamsburg’s Super Bowl 50 advertisement has come under fire due to its use of footage from 9/11. Many people were outraged, and accused the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation of exploiting a tragedy that shattered the lives of numerous American citizens. Much of the criticism rushed in real-time via Twitter, with comments that characterized the advertisement as macabre, embarrassing and shameful. The footage is jarring, there is no disputing that fact. But if one is to truly reflect on history, especially that of the United States of America, one must be prepared to relive, understand and acknowledge events that stir up uncomfortable and upsetting emotions.

I believe it was absolutely critical for Colonial Williamsburg to acknowledge the tragedy of 9/11 amidst its montage of other iconic moments in American history.

I admire and applaud the advertisement’s use of footage from 9/11, as it is an absolutely crucial factor in how the United States developed into the nation it is today. Rewinding the destruction was not disrespectful, it was deliberate. It is impossible to imagine what the world would be like today had the Twin Towers not been struck down, and had our nation not been rocked to its core by one of the most violent terrorist attacks in our history. In the words of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation’s CEO, Mitchell Reiss, “…the America we know was not inevitable” and never will be.

I believe it was absolutely critical for Colonial Williamsburg to acknowledge the tragedy of 9/11 amidst its montage of other iconic moments in American history. To not do so would mean that the Foundation chose to gloss over one of this country’s, and the world’s, most defining moments. To those who criticized and balked at the commercial, why? Why should we as a nation and a people shy away from and be offended by challenges and tragedies? Why should we gloss over moments of intense suffering just to save ourselves the pain of remembrance? A defining characteristic of the United States is its resilience in the face of impossible odds, and the Colonial Williamsburg advertisement celebrated not only our nation but our infallible spirit’s effect on its history.

 The strength of the American spirit is a truly remarkable phenomenon, and Colonial Williamsburg’s advertisement beautifully showcases its growth and depth. With images that portray the best of times and the worst of times, it presents viewers with an unapologetically honest picture of American history.

Tom Brokaw’s profoundly eloquent narration reflects on the many layers that contributed to the United States of America I know today. He acknowledges “our sacrifices, our breakthroughs … our heartbreaks” and marvels at how “an entire country came to believe anything is possible” despite the challenges, mistakes and tragedies the American people have faced in our few hundred years as fellow countrymen. The strength of the American spirit is a truly remarkable phenomenon, and Colonial Williamsburg’s advertisement beautifully showcases its growth and depth. With images that portray the best of times and the worst of times, it presents viewers with an unapologetically honest picture of American history.

Rife with symbolism and respectful nods to the events that have shaped our nation, the advertisement accomplished exactly what Colonial Williamsburg Foundation spokesman, Joe Straw, says it set out to do: “Our ad is meant to walk viewers backwards through time, challenging them to reflect on how our collective history and struggles shape who we are as Americans today.”

Email Madison Ochs at [email protected]

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  • Madison Ochs

(11) Readers Comments

  1. Hal Gill
    February 16, 2016 at 3:50 PM

    I believe you may be missing the point - the moment of murder being used to sell tickets to an historical attraction was insensitive at best; unconscionable even. Have a read of this rather adroit and balanced assessment:

    • wmhc2020
      February 16, 2016 at 8:49 PM

      I think it is interesting how different generations can have different takes and opinions on these issues. I wish many would not have a proclivity for seeing evil in the world, it is important to recognize that these events have shaped our nation and to not think of everything we see as a cynical tactic to gain money and bring people to a town so rich in our nation's history. While I respect your opinion, I feel as though the author's article is not "missing the point" but taking a view that is different from yours. It is important to be exposed to different perspectives in the world and open your mind. However, yes there may be a possibility that the creators of the commercial who included this clip are trying to make a living, do their job and bring people to the destination in order to bring money to the town--- but doesn't talking about the very fact that 9/11 was included in the commercial invite more people to talk about the video and bring more publicity? In any case, I prefer to see the world through rose-colored glasses and see this as another historical event that occurred and left an impact on our country- not as a means or an attempt to be insensitive to the public and affected families. I still wonder why there is there no debate or uproar from the public regarding clips of wars and deaths shown in the video? Is the public not disturbed by the images of our countrymen dragging soldiers off a battle field or is it only because this "recent" event we are still most vulnerable to?

    • John Smith
      February 16, 2016 at 8:59 PM

      you just got roasted bro

  2. wmhc2020
    February 16, 2016 at 8:08 PM

    Wow this is a really good point.. I think the author really put some thought into this- as well as some personal experiences and opinions! I appreciate this opinion and think this author is very real... GREAT ARTICLE! go capture that dream girl

  3. John Smith
    February 16, 2016 at 8:57 PM

    Interesting read!

    • wmhc2020
      February 16, 2016 at 8:58 PM

      I agree. This individual clearly understands "the point".

      • John Smith
        February 16, 2016 at 8:58 PM


        • wmhc2020
          February 16, 2016 at 8:58 PM


  4. John Smith
    February 16, 2016 at 9:00 PM


  5. Hal Gill
    February 16, 2016 at 11:13 PM

    If you'll read the article - I think it speaks for itself - The Ad offended what CW called "a small data point" - which would be those people who lost loved ones in the fall of the twin towers. It was a misuse of the event to ostensibly sell the Historic Area to the public at large. The mainstream press was overwhelmingly negative - those who do not "get" the reason for it may lack the historical context of the viewers who experienced the losses that day. Colonial Williamsburg's current management made a ham-handed attempt to spin the response - and whitewash the offense of that "small data point" which is continuing to resound even now. The author has done a great job of recommending some actions that could be taken: Tip #1: Think before you speak. Good crisis PR practice is to respond quickly, but if your rapid response is not right, you can make the situation worse. Take the time needed, an hour, 2 hours, 12 hours – to get your response right – in words and in delivery tone. Both must be right. Tip #2: Talk to real people. The “small data point” quote was surely one of the worst mistakes made by the foundation in its response. The language minimized and belittled the genuinely hurt feelings of those who were offended. A better response would have been to acknowledge the valid concerns of those who protested about the ad. Offer to talk with people and hear their concerns. Tip #3: Don’t “spin” things as if they are more positive than they really are. The foundation used a talking point saying that the response to the ad on social media was “overwhelmingly” positive. This was untrue, just based on looking at the foundation’s own social media channels. The fact that the foundation kept saying how “positive” the response was, just make it look like the foundation was disingenuously trying to spin the story to its preferred version. Acknowledge the reality of the situation. Tip #4: Apologize when you hurt people, instead of going on the defensive. If your actions as an organization have seriously hurt people’s feelings, the sky is probably not going to fall if you say sorry. A sincere apology can go a long way to making things better. Saying sorry early on, can go a long way to diffusing a negative story and prevent it from becoming a festering problem. In case you're too lazy to click! ;-)

  6. wmhc2020
    February 17, 2016 at 7:48 PM

    I think some people need to actually open a book instead of just referring to articles they've read once upon a time on the internet and use those as the only supporting evidence they have for their so called "opinion".

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