LinkedIn's 9/11 Marketing Fail

On Sept. 10,  Apple will announce its new iPhone. Comedian Bill Burr’s special “Paper Tiger" will hit Netflix on that day -- also time for Team17’s video game “Blasphemous” to launch, and Margaret Atwood’s highly awaited novel “The Testaments” to publish.

Sept. 10 is a big day. It’s after Labor Day,  just as the fall season is heating up. And, most importantly, it’s NOT Sept. 11.

Because that day is now caught in a strange and painful limbo. It’s not a national holiday. It’s not officially part of any memorial or remembrance. And yet, it’s a day that requires something --  at the very least, silence from the marketing world.

Which is why the email from LinkedIn caught me by surprise.

"Hi Steven, You're invited to get an exclusive look at upcoming product and feature releases from LinkedIn Marketing Solutions. Join us on September 11th for a live webinar where we'll walk you through upcoming product features and how to use them to achieve your marketing goals."



Really? Did someone in marketing look at the calendar and say “Well, we can’t do the 10th, or the 12th, so what about Sept. 11? That seems like a day when customers will be excited to hear about New LinkedIn features.”

The letter was signed by Arjun Desai, product marketing manager, LinkedIn Marketing Solutions.

I reached out to Desai and asked him if the choice of 9/11 was inadvertent or strategic. He responded via LinkedIn a few hours later but didn’t answer the question, instead directing me to someone in PR.

Brands have in the past used the hashtag #NeverForget and patriotic images as a way to connect with 9/11. Among them, Harley-Davidson, Macy’s, Real Simple, Cosmopolitan, and Southwest Airlines all got criticized for their use of the tag in 2015. But by 2018, everyone seemed to have gotten the memo.

Which is why the LinkedIn webinar is all the more puzzling.

My outreach to Desai was pretty straightforward. "I'm wondering what kind of team conversations there was about that date, and if it would impact any sensitivities or issues given the somber nature of the day,” I wrote.

His response still left me somewhat stunned. "Hi Steven - Thanks for your note. Can you reach out to Fred Han, on our PR team? He'll be able to talk to this more:"

A quick search of my name on Google would tell you that I have a long history writing about and making films about 9/11 and its aftermath. I even did a TED talk at the main conference on the topic back in 2012. So when I reach out to ask about Linkedin's use of 9/11 for marketing purposes, the question comes from an honest place, and not one that should be punted to PR.

As we approach the 18th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center, I'm hopeful that most marketers and brands will steer clear of the date. It isn't a time to sell a product, or try and hitch a brand to a national tragedy. Instead, it's a good time for American's to think about how the country has changed in just two decades -- and what we've agreed to give up, as we try and balance security and freedom.

Update, 9.6.18:
LinkedIn's Arjun Desai reached out to me after this article was published with the following statement  "Hi Steven, thanks for bringing this to our attention. We've decided to change the event date to Wed, Sept 25.” 
I wondered what had prompted the change and asked Desai. His response: "We'll let the decision speak for itself.”  So, unclear how the event was scheduled, or why the schedule was changed.
4 comments about "LinkedIn's 9/11 Marketing Fail".
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  1. Roger Baker from NAPCO Media, August 26, 2019 at 1:58 p.m.

    My guess is that Arjun may be too young, as are members of his team, to afix the same meaning to the day that you do. I can recall my father being quite angry that our town would have the temerity to schedule a Christmas parade on Dec 7. The year was 1982.

    Not minimizing your reverence for the day; I was bottle feeding my son while I watched the second tower fall, so it's going to be an infamous day for me forever; woe to the brand which tries to profit from it.

    Arjun correctly figured out that he'd touched a third rail of modern culture and handed it off to the "in house expert" to handle. 


  2. Juan Juanes from A, August 27, 2019 at 12:33 a.m.

    I think it's a waste of time to be offended over a company's choice of date for a webinar. Going as far as clling it a failure makes me think the author is only trying to be relevant.

    I've been in the world long enough to know about 9/11, and also understand that the world does not revolve around avoiding tragic past event dates. Furthermore, I find it shameful to drag someone's name through the floor like that for doing their job, which is to refer questions to the PR team. That's what they're there for.


  3. steven rosenbaum from replied, August 27, 2019 at 9:16 a.m.

    Juan - here's the thing. If this was just a mistake, then ok. But LinkedIn is owned by Microsoft, and big companies have at least three calendars they check before they schedule any marketing event. They check their internal list (ie: LinkIn events) they check Corporate events (ie Microsoft) and they check industry event s(ie: Apple, etc.). So there's no way that one employee gets to schedule a 9/11 marketing event. And, while PR might advise marketing as to how to respond, PR isn't setting marketing objectives or plans, they're just putting out fires. So sending a customer and journalist to PR (and then PR not even making an attempt to reach out) tell me that they know it was a bad decision, and they're just hoping it will go away. 9/11 has had profound impact on our country, impact that is very much in play today 18 years later - so sweeping it under the rug is sure to make things worse in the years ahead. 

  4. Kevin Horne from Verizon, August 27, 2019 at 5:27 p.m.

    Sadly, i think this is a sign of the times. A combination of the near-complete hollowing out of American muscle memory, and a complete inability to separate the true meaning of a nation from the daily whirlwind of (mostly) vapid, self-aggrandizing behavior.

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