As the 10th anniversary of 9/11 approaches, marketers like the Home Depot, General Motors and American Express are struggling with the best way to connect with the tens of millions of consumers who will observe the day, without appearing to be either exploitive or insensitive.
The Home Depot is the latest, just announcing that its foundation is working with The Mission Continues and rock band 3 Doors Down to introduce a "Celebration of Service" campaign, an effort to enhance the lives of U.S. military veterans. The campaign kicks off on Sept. 11, and is scheduled to run through Veterans Day Nov. 11, addressing some 200 service projects that it says are directly aimed at "improving homes, facilities and community centers where veterans live and receive services."
Last month, the General Motors Foundation and Chevrolet donated $250,000 to the Travis Manion Foundation, to help increase participation around the country in the 9/11 Heroes Run. And companies like American Express, Chase and Best Buy are key supporters of the 9/11 Day of Service. That group, founded by families of 9/11 victims, reports that nearly 70% of Americans say they are interested in paying tribute somehow on the 10th anniversary.
"I haven't seen many active efforts yet, but I think a lot of companies are really grappling with this question," Sarah Kerkian, an insights supervisor at Cone, Inc., a cause-related marketing agency in Boston, tells Marketing Daily, adding that she anticipates more efforts from major brands in the next two weeks. "These will likely center around employee service, but I'm sure we will see a few consumer-facing efforts, too."
The Home Depot effort, for example, in addition to awarding $9 million in grants, invites customers to contribute by purchasing a Celebration of Service-themed gift card from the retailer between Sept. 11 and Veterans Day. It says 5% of the value placed on these cards is to be donated to The Home Depot Foundation to support nonprofit organizations serving the housing needs of veterans. Kerkian says that effort is likely to click with core customers because of the Atlanta-based company's long association with veterans' causes. (Back in April, it also pledged a three-year, $30 million initiative to address veterans' housing needs.)
But appearing overly promotional, she points out, can backfire: New York Sports Clubs recently touted a $20-a-month-for-life offer for First Responders that got spanked in some local media. "However, as the fine print notes, the offer is only good till September 11th and only applicable to police, soldiers, and EMTs who are currently employed," notes blogger Bucky Turco, on at Animalnewyork.com. "Anyone who worked in the rubble but has since retired is ineligible. Oh well, they're probably too sick to workout anyway."
"I don't think it's necessarily taboo anymore to link events to 9/11, particularly on this significant anniversary," Kerkian adds. "But I do think there's an incredibly high level of sensitivity and care being paid to make sure efforts are in good taste."