The esteemed editors of Investor Uprising thought they were going to get another tongue-in-cheek commentary on things I have seen in the news in recent days. But I'm going to give that a rest and get serious for a change.
As most of you reading this blog know, The Spin is designed to "spin" how we think about particular subjects. It's supposed to turn what we know -- and don't know -- about our personal and professional ethics inside out, upside down, or any other which way. We don't often equate ethics with investments and business decisions, but they are fundamentally rooted in everything we do.
It's with these ideals in mind that I want to talk about what has troubled me about the 10th anniversary of 9/11.
We all have memories of where we were when our country changed forever. (I was on my honeymoon in Italy and watched on TV when a plane hit the second tower, and at no time in my life have I associated being an American with more importance.)
Now, a decade later, I spent the weekend watching how the media have commemorated this horrific incident, how brands have associated themselves with 9/11 survivors, first responders, families, et.al., and how social media have become a sounding board for people's feelings about the whole event.
I'm dismayed by some of the spectacles that have taken place, even if companies' intents were good at heart. Being in the business I'm in, I began to guess what brands and media were going to do. It was as if I were watching the Super Bowl in September, wanting to see who would participate in mass media production and in what format.
Apparently, so were many other people, as indicated by this Advertising Age article. You needn't read the article or view the videos. Just review the comments, and you'll see how divided people are on the subject.
This is one of those cases where the study of ethics comes into play:
- Is it morally correct for these companies to align themselves with the 9/11 memorial?
- Do you think there were any ethical considerations at Southwest (NYSE: LUV), State Farm, and others whose ads were so prevalent? Were there any discussions on the social ramifications of associating their brands with "remembering the fallen?" Aren't we all remembering? Won't we always remember? Do we need ads to remind us?
- Will people be more inclined to purchase these products and services because these companies made special efforts to showcase a sense of citizenship? Did these ads strike the right balance between sensitivity and marketing?
- As investors, do you feel any appreciation or animosity toward these companies? Does their decision affect how you perceive them?
As investors? Yes, as investors. I would bet more than a pretty penny that no company asked its investor relations department whether an ad buy on 9/11 would affect corporate sentiment. But I bet there were more than a few institutional investors who were on Wall Street when the towers came down. And therein lies the point of this post.
It's easy to say that we're patriotic and believe that we are pro-"something." It's another thing entirely to say it in a way that could offend someone. Someone is going to think, "These guys got it right." Others will say, "This is crude and insensitive."
There will be winners and losers. But in the end, does anyone really win?