Suffer In Silence

Please, not a word.

In your advertising, in your PR, on your Web sites, say nothing. No matter how deeply you ache for the next of kin, and for the country, keep it to yourself. No matter how you or your employees might have pitched in to ameliorate the pain or to support their own communities, there is nothing about Sandy Hook Elementary that needs your brand name attached to it. Not one single thing.

From Oklahoma City to 9/11, from Katrina to Kosovo, certain marketers pushed themselves into public view. Motives are sometimes impossible to divine. Perhaps these companies, and the people within them, just wish -- like all heartbroken bystanders -- to express how deeply sad they are, and happen to have the media budgets to do so. Too often, though, they merely prove how deeply cynical they are, and leverage their media budgets to do a little one-off marketing.

In 1995, after the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City killed 168 men, women and children, power-tool toolmaker Makita took out a full-page newspaper ad to brag that its products were used by relief and rescue teams. Couched as an expression of solidarity, it was morally grandstanding upon a mass grave.



"Today, hundreds of courageous rescue workers are putting their own safety at risk in hope of bringing the Oklahoma City tragedy to a conclusion. Makita Power Tools are with them in spirit and on the rescue site.”

In 1998, Philip-Morris airlifted what The Wall Street Journal estimated to be $125,000 of Kraft food to Kosovar refugees. Nice gesture. Too nice to be lost in the headlines. So the company's ad agency, Leo Burnett, undertook a $1 million TV commercial to dramatize the client's generosity. They created a refugee-camp set in the un-wartorn Czech Republic, tied headscarves on 350 extras and created a poignant 60-second spot, while Philip-Morris proceeded to spend many millions of dollars airing it. Bless their philanthropic hearts.

Don't begrudge them their moment of self-congratulation. This is a company that for decades addicted children to carcinogens behind a smokescreen of fictitious scientific doubt; if they don't honor themselves, who will? Anyway, even that obscenity looks like a sizzle reel for Jesus compared to what followed 9/11, when American consumers were asked to show their patriotism and honor the victims by buying a Taurus or a Lumina.  Both General Motors (“Keep America Rolling!”) and Ford Motor Co. (“Ford Drives America”) launched versions of a 3000-dead Sale-a-bration, because national grief posed such a splendid opportunity. You can't personally get revenge against bin Laden, but you can get yourself a totally bitchin' Explorer.

Thus were the sacred burial grounds of 9/11 trampled. It was like picking the pockets of the dead.

We are now only a few days into the Sandy Hook aftermath, and so far most everybody had demonstrated respect. There will always be loathsome political opportunists, like the religious kook Mike Huckabee (“We ask why there is violence in our schools, but we've systematically removed God from our schools. Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage because we've made it a place where we don't want to talk about eternity, life, what responsibility means, accountability?”)I would like to see him say as much to some of the parents who lost their babies; I've never witnessed a man being beaten mute.

But faulting an ignoramus for being ignorant is like faulting a rooster for waking you up. What defies all understanding is the perversity of, say, a film producer exploiting the tragedy to promote his new flick.  Yet blogger Fruzsina Eördögh says she ran across this press release promoting the movie “Genius.”

Los Angeles, CA, December 14. Those who murder all have one thing in common, says the producer of new movie on the death of the Beatles’ John Lennon.

Based on initial reports, a masked gunman murdered more than 25 people -- including 18 children -- at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut on Friday morning. Two guns were found near the shooter, who was discovered dead inside a classroom, according to law enforcement officials and media reports. Witnesses said the shooter was wearing a mask but his identity was still unknown. This is the second deadliest school shooting since the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre claimed the lives of 32 people….  Ray Comfort, the producer of a new movie called “Genius,” believes he knows why people are willing to take innocent life. …..

“Something tragic is happening in our country,” Comfort noted, “and most people don't know what it is. Those who want to understand why these tragedies are occurring -- and are likely to continue to occur -- should watch the free movie.”

I, of course, cannot be certain this is not an awful hoax, for I'm always freshly stunned when an enterprise trades on dead children to move the needle. But assuming Eördögh hasn't been scammed, can you not envision a man with his P.R. agent on Friday, with CNN playing in the background, exchanging high fives?


12 comments about "Suffer In Silence".
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  1. John Wolfe from GroupM, December 17, 2012 at 10:34 a.m.

    Well done, Bobby. Very well done.

  2. Jonathan Hall from American Pop, December 17, 2012 at 11:21 a.m.

    I agree, brands should remain quiet. Though I would like to hear what the weapons manufacturer may have to say.

  3. Adam Hollander from Brand Marketers, December 17, 2012 at 11:25 a.m.

    Bob your right and the TV Networks blasting the story over and over again to boost ratings and capalitize on ad dollars are making me sick, too.

  4. Steve Nilsen from Private, December 17, 2012 at 11:43 a.m.

    Adam, I don't see how Bob does any better than "the TV Networks." Our friend Bob is not in the charity business either, I believe.
    Furthermore, Bob, you started out so well, that I am reminded how well restraint works at times. You could have stopped after your first paragraph, and avoided all the "look what a-holes those guys are." Let's take a break and focus on the people who do good deeds, maybe just for a week or so, if we can, please.

  5. Brad Stewart from Molecule Inc., December 17, 2012 at 11:57 a.m.

    Let's not throw out the baby with the bathwater. Let's "Give in Silence". These parents need us. The next of kin need us. The students need us. The community needs us. If there has ever been a candidate for anonymous giving, this is it in my mind. Here are some potential links:,
    Thank you Bob. This article makes me proud to be part of the Mediapost community.

  6. Theresa M. Moore from Antellus, December 17, 2012 at 2:45 p.m.

    Unfortunately, there are too many of these opportunists who are too glad to grab their 12 seconds in the sun on the backs of a tragedy like this. Apart from a few words about my impressions of the total tragedy, I plan to lambaste them with a few choice words about it without mentioning any of them by name. There have been and will be these kinds of people; including the media, thanks to which I was forced to turn off my television because there was too much coverage. I mean, there are many more of such events occurring all over the world, and in which many more than 20 children were killed. I could not escape the pervasiveness of this one event. If this goes on much longer, I may stop watching television altogether, and then what will those vultures do to capture market share? It is shameful.

  7. Judy Colbert from Tuff Turtle, December 17, 2012 at 3:57 p.m.

    Amen. I posted a more succinct version on Facebook and was chastised, subtley, by a small business owner who felt it was imperative that she post her "thoughts and prayers" to the survivors, etc.

  8. Mark Paul from Mark Paul, December 17, 2012 at 4:43 p.m.

    I wrote much the same column immediately after 9/11. One point I especially remember making was trying to discourage marketers from trying to create an otherwise non-existent patriotic connection with their product or service.

    And then the publisher decided to put an American flag on each and every page.

  9. Jen Mcgahan from MyTeamConnects, December 17, 2012 at 5:30 p.m.

    And yet, I noticed you couldn't help giving your two cents. Maybe, um, practice what you preach.

  10. Bob Garfield from MediaPost, December 17, 2012 at 5:45 p.m.

    @Jen Mcgahan

    Maybe, um, there's a difference between a consumer brand and journalistic commentary from somebody with nothing to sell. In fact there is a vast difference, obvious to (almost) everyone.

  11. Jen Mcgahan from MyTeamConnects, December 17, 2012 at 6:48 p.m.

    OK I admit my comment was a bit snarky. All I'm saying is that you, Bob, the pen/voice behind the regular and well-read column "Garfield at Large" are not a brand in the same way that Mike Huckabee is not a brand. And yet, it's basic human nature to want/need to comment. Overtly profiting from this incident is wrong indeed, but let's be fair and not so quick to judge the motives behind expressions of faith, compassion and good sense.

  12. Neal Burns from University of Texas at Austin, December 17, 2012 at 7:54 p.m.

    At this time and in our culture we express grief, mourning and regret in a variety of ways – some of us are stoic, many stumble, wander, unable to speak. Others wail or cry out, there are those overwhelmed with anger who want to strike out and hit – and then there are those who sit, stunned, quiet, perhaps consumed with memories. And prayer.
    Helping the suffering is felt by many - who are empathic and compassionate - to be a natural response, almost mandated by the event. Organizations like the Red Cross and mobile technology have made it relatively easy to do so – and many out of humane consideration – or maybe even out of guilt – offer such assistance as they can. Are there a few among with such poor taste and judgment that they see tragedy to the other as a moneymaking event for them? Of course.
    The Sandy Hook massacre and the continuing pieces of the story are stunning and somehow have extended our perception of the range of inhuman and psychotic behavior. It is to almost all of us incomprehensible that our children can meet such a violent death or that a member of our species can do it. And Bob illustrates that our self-interests – while we can talk easily about expressions of love, assistance and support – will in certain cases be tied to financial gain either presented clearly, or cloaked in a do-good robe.

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