One stock photo and some bad judgement add up to a PR disaster with this 9/11 ad

Truth be told, he was NOT there.
Truth be told, he was NOT there.

The ad shown here suddenly turned into one huge PR disaster for New York ad agency Barker/DZP and it all could have been avoided had they just ponied up to hire a professional photographer to create an original image for the ad.

Released last week, the ad depicts a New York City Firefighter holding a photo from the 9/11 disaster along with a statement, “I WAS THERE”. Nevermind the fact that the ad itself was in poor taste from the start using 9/11 visuals to promote the commercial interests of a New York City law firm. The ad agency chose to buy stock photography to illustrate the ad and that is where the campaign blew up in their faces.

The model in the stock photo they chose turned out to be an actual New York City Firefighter however, he wasn’t on the force at the time of 9/11 not having joined the FDNY until 2004. Further, in the original photo the model had been holding a Firefighter’s helmet which the ad agency replaced with a photo of the 9/11 tragedy. More poor judgement aimed at tugging the heartstrings and leveraging the 9/11 disaster.

After outrage from many who saw the ad and a threatened lawsuit from the model in the photo Barker/DZP pulled the ad and has voluntarily withdrawn from the assignment. That is one huge price to pay in bad PR, lost future business, damaged reputation and just plain old public embarrassment not only for the ad agency but for the client as well.

The sad thing is that the entire expensive PR bungle could have been avoided if only they had hired a professional photographer to create an original and authentic image for the ad.

If the ad agency had expended a bit more energy and budget on finding an actual 9/11 responder for their model (maybe one of the law firms clients?) then hired a photographer to create the photo the ad might have succeeded for their client. At the very least it would not have created this quagmire of public embarrassment and the damage that will certainly linger as a result.

In the end the little bit of money (and effort) saved by the ad agency through purchasing stock photography instead of creating original art is probably looking mighty expensive to them about now. Sometimes, you get what you pay for…

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