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Ads Express Sympathy After ‘Day of Infamy’

Author’s Note: This research article appeared in Media In An American Crisis  (2005) edited by Elinor Kelley Grusin and Sandra H. Utt, then editors of the Newspaper Research Journal and published by University Press of America. It includes an Appendix not published in the original article.

Advertisements Related to the September 11 Attack Published in the NYT

We all know the horror of the September 11, 2001 (9/11) terrorist attacks when four hijacked airliners crashed into the World Trade Center (WTC), the Pentagon and a farming field near Pittsburgh.  The casualty list represents 44 countries and totals 265 jet passengers, 2,823 people in the WTC including 343 firefighters, and 125 at the Pentagon (Wikipedia, 2001). 

By any measure, the attack mesmerized the country. The Pew Research Center (2001) reports the attack, “riveted the nation’s attention and galvanized Americans’ interest in news” (p. 1). News interest in the attack reached an all time high with 78% paying very close attention to the stories. This exceeds the news interest in the 1992 Los Angeles riots (70%), the Persian Gulf War (67%), and the Oklahoma City bombing (58%). Adults followed television coverage of the attacks for an average of 8.1 hours on the day of the attack (Schuster et al., 2001).

Reactions to the attack were intense and prolonged. Schuster et al. (2001) report in the New England Journal of Medicine 90% of the country had one or more symptoms of stress to some degree, with 44% reporting substantial symptoms. Nearly 50% of children were worried about the safety of themselves or their loved ones. A Washington Post-ABC survey reports almost everyone thinks the attack permanently changed the country (Morin & Deane, 2002).              

Many in the country created a sense of community through giving, as nearly two-thirds of the households donated $2.3 billion to the 11 major charities assisting the families of people killed by the hijackers, people who lost their jobs or homes, or those thousands of others who were somehow harmed by the attacks (Sun, Cohen & Salmon, 2002). Internet donations totaled more than $57 million during the first week alone following the attack. Tech companies Amazon.com, AOL/Time Warner, Cisco Systems, ebay, Microsoft, and Yahoo! formed the American Liberty Partnership to coordinate online donations. Today more than $110 million has been donated online since 9/11 (American Liberty Partnership, 2002). 

Interestingly, newspaper advertising referencing the attack was timely and extremely varied. Consider the following.

Photographer Anne Geddes (2001) published a black and white photograph of a tiny, sleeping, newborn white-baby cupped in two, uplifted, youthfully-confident black hands.  The full-page advertisement in the New York Times  sponsored by Ms. Geddes features Pablo Casals’ poem  “You Are A Marvel.” The poem reminds the child he is, “a marvel [and has] the capacity for anything.” It then asks, “And when you grow up, can you then harm another who is, like you, a marvel?” (p. B12).

General Electric (2001) sponsored a full-page advertisement in the New York Times that features a line drawing of Lady Liberty determinedly striding off the statue’s base as she roles up her sleeve and defiantly promises, “We will overcome. We will never forget” (p. A13).

Anne Geddes sponsored this full page ad in the Sept. 28, 2001 edition of the NYT is Sec. B on page 12.

The National Education Association (2001) sought to “help our children cope with the loss of life and the loss of our sense of security,” (p. B19) in its half-page advertisement with the headline ”Uniting Behind Our Children.” It suggests we model calm and compassionate behavior, provide structure and comfort, while telling the children the truth.

The purpose of this research is to study the role of newspaper advertisements in a time of a terrorist attack through a content analysis of advertisements published in the New York Times following 9/11. The descriptive nature of this case study of advertising’s role is significant because it represents the only content analysis of advertisements published in a national newspaper during wartime. It provides a detailed account of the nation’s response through the advertisements published in a national newspaper to the worst terrorist attack in its history.    


The literature reflects advertising’s multiple contributions during wartime.  Just 4 weeks after the December 7, 1941 Pearl Harbor bombing, the Advertising Council was founded to bolster the war effort. In 1943 it was renamed the War Advertising Council (WAC) and assisted in raising $35 billion in war bonds through print, broadcast, and other public service advertisements (The University of Illinois, 2002). Producing “the greatest volume of advertising and publicity ever given to any product or agency,” (Hartman Center, Brief History section, para. 1) the WAC directed 6 major wartime campaigns in the areas of price-control, corporate awards, conservation, post-war plans, letters to military, and war bonds. 

The wartime advertising industry was guided by a 39-point code adopted by the Advertising Federation of America in March 1942. Titled the “Guide for Wartime Advertising Policies,” it addressed advertising’s responsibility in maintaining production for civilian and military needs, directing consumer demand from scarce to more available products, directly assisting the government in its direct appeals, and fostering and maintaining public moral. Point 21 directs the industry to, “promote intelligent patriotism” (New York Times, 1942, p.1).

To promote and express national consensus for the war effort, Hearst publicist Paul MacNamara conceived the “United We Stand” campaign (Kreitler, 2001). Sponsored by the National Publishers Association and the U.S. Flag Association, the campaign requested the country’s magazines design their July 4, 1942 covers around patriotic themes. Nearly 300 magazines participated: all used the flag and more than half used the campaign slogan on their covers. The National Museum Of American History (2002) is sponsoring an exhibit commemorating the promotion that runs from March-October 2002.

Today, advertising and government are again official partners in the war on terrorism. In October 2001 Secretary of State Colin L. Powell hired former Madison Avenue leader Charlotte Beers as undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and pubic affairs. The former leader of Ogilvy & Mather and J. Walter Thompson is charged with bolstering America’s image in the Middle East. Promotional efforts to date include market research, the hiring of an official spokesperson for the Arabic-language satellite channel Al-Jazeera, a print supplement for Arabic newspapers featuring graphic photos of the attack’s horror, and future TV spots featuring sports and entertainment celebrities (Starr, 2001).   

Spontaneous, commercially supported advertisements bought in response to military attacks are a new and little researched phenomenon. Consider the December holiday issues of the New York Times after Pearl Harbor. The papers are filled with seasonal shopping advertisements but lack any attack-related advertising. The only attack-related advertisement in the Sunday, December 14 issue following the attack is a bordered, open-letter on the editorial page to President Roosevelt from a private citizen counseling prudence in preparing for war (Founes, 1941, p. 10E).

The response through newspaper advertising to the 168 deaths in the April 19, 1995 bombing of Oklahoma City ‘s Alfred P. Murrah Building was measurable.  The Daily Oklahoman’s National Sales Manager Steve Barrymore (personal communication August, 14, 2002) said, “we did carry a fair amount of advertisements for a short time that supported specific causes related to the bombing. There was a pall that fell over our city for several months…(and) at times like that, the people that run those advertisements are emotional themselves.” 

Print advertising referencing the September 11 attack appears in other publications. An analysis of the Washington Post documents 31 advertisements related to the 9/11 attack in the Sunday, September 16, 2001 national edition, and 20 advertisements in the Sunday, September 23 issue. Ganahl (2002) concludes that magazine advertisements related to 9/11 reached prominent levels in national business and news weekly magazines and generally expressed sympathetic rather than marketing-related messages.

What does the public think about this type of attack-related advertising? 

The advertising agency Campbell Mithun (2001) concludes in its post-9/11 evaluation of national perceptions about advertising that 69% agree that the content and tone of most 9/11-related advertising is sensitive and appropriate. It warns marketers that, “consumers resent companies that would seem to profit from the national pathos by exploiting consumers’ renewed feeling of patriotism and volunteerism” (p. 8).

In her study of consumer attitudes regarding the use of patriotic themes in advertising, Bichard (2002) reports the majority feels positively about the current use of patriotic frames in advertising, and that these advertisements may play a role in reinvigorating American ideals. She concludes, “the patriotic frame appears to be one in which consumers find great solace and motivation during this time of uncertainty” (p. 17).   


This study follows the content analysis research techniques discussed by Krippendorff (1980) and Riffe, Lacy and Fico (1998). A sample of 35 consecutive issues, or five weeks, of the New York Time’s Washington Edition published after the attack was coded. The first issue coded is dated Wednesday, September 12, 2001 and the last issue coded is dated Monday, October 15, 2001.

The Washington Edition is considered the New York Time’s National Edition. The newspaper’s Managing Director of Circulation Laura Peppedoyle explains, “there are no editorial or advertising differences between the two editions. The only difference in regional editions is the weather blurb that runs at the top of page one” (personal communication January 28, 2003).

Actual newspaper issues, rather than microfilmed copies, were coded because they exactly depict the advertisements’ context and physical characteristics. Also, if an advertisement was published more than once, each publication was coded because this process accurately reflects the advertisement’s impact.

The unit of analysis is display advertisements related to the 9/11 attack.  A display advertisement is a bordered advertisement of any size published in any section of the newspaper excluding the classified section. An advertisement related to 9/11 is any advertisement that makes an explicit or implicit textual or visual reference to events or reactions related to the September 11 terrorist attack. 

This researcher coded all advertisements.  

Representative categories include when the advertisements were published, where they appeared in the newspaper, sponsor identification, the purpose or objective of the advertisements, and their physical characteristics. A total of 19 variables were measured. These include day, week (a period of 7 consecutive days beginning on Wednesday), section and page of publication, type of sponsor and co-sponsor, primary and secondary advertising objectives (primary objectives are mentioned first, or are most graphically prominent), and physical characteristics of the advertisement including size, color, design balance, and utilization of design elements including letter layouts, borders, screens, and reverses. 


A total of 558 advertisements related to 9/11 were published in the New York Times during the 35-day period. Advertisements referencing the attack were published on every day except Saturday, October 6. The advertisements tend to appear in the paper’s front sections and were evenly spread throughout a section’s pages. A wide variety of sponsors used the advertisements for multiple purposes. The advertisements tended to be large, formally balanced, and text-only. However, nearly 30% include some type of graphic including photographs, artwork, or computer graphics.

Timing of the Advertisements    

Nearly 68% of the advertisements were published during the first two weeks, 28% during weeks three and four, and almost 5% during week five. Most of the advertisements were published on Sunday with almost 22% of the advertisements, followed by Monday with 18%, and Friday with 17%. Saturdays had the fewest advertisements with less than 7%.

The number of published advertisements peaked on days five and six after the attack when 43 advertisements were published on both Sunday, September 16 and Monday September 17. Sunday, September 23 ranked second with 38 advertisements. Only one advertisement was published on the study’s last day, Monday, October 15.

Location of the Advertisements

Nearly 51% of the advertisements were published in Section A. Advertisements in Section B accounted for 22%. On Tuesday, September 18, “A Nation Challenged” replaced “International” as the title of Section B.  This all-news section was devoted exclusively to content related to the attack and its aftermath. Advertisements in this section appeared only on the last page. The “Business” section accounted for 15%. Other sections accounted for 12% and include Art, Dining, Entertainment, Weekend, and Leisure. Almost 4 out 10 advertisements were published on pages 16 and beyond, while the remaining advertisements were evenly distributed among pages 1-5, 6-10, and 11-15.  

Sponsors of the Advertisements

Businesses sponsored nearly 64% of the advertisements, and public entities such as foreign governments or associations (9%), American states or cities (2%), and other government offices (4%) account for 15%. Other sponsors including religions, churches, universities, medical facilities and cultural institutions comprise 21% (see Appendix).  

The type of business varies widely with retail representing 26%, finance 26%, insurance 22%, and industry or manufacturing 18%. Nearly 8% of the businesses are coded as other and include media, technology, and service related companies.

Purpose of the Advertisements   

The primary objective of nearly 60% of the advertisements is the expression of sympathy. Many times the advertiser specifically mentions the victims and their families, especially the fallen 343 firefighters and 78 other uniformed rescuers and their families. The primary objective of 8% was the request of donations to various funds. The objectives of the remaining 32% were coded other because of their wide variety and include prayer services, postponements or cancellations, counseling suggestions, small business loans, insurance assistance, political statements, cultural activities, and others (see Appendix). 

Almost half the advertisements have secondary objectives. Seventeen percent of these secondary objectives are requests for donations, while 15% are expressions of sympathy. Nearly 69% of the secondary objectives are classified other.

Very few of the advertisements use overt commercial or marketing messages in their 9/11-related advertisements. General Motors (2001) used full-page color advertisements on September 23 to introduce its 0% financing “Keep American Rolling” campaign. Ford (2001) countered on September 24 with its own black-and-white full-page advertisement promoting its 0% financing “Challenging Times” campaign. The NY Sports Club (2001) promised to “Keep America Strong” by reducing memberships to $50 during October and giving $25 to the Red Cross for each new member.

Examples of objectives related to cultural activities include the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s (2001) promotion in its Friday, September 21 quarter-page advertisement of noon concerts of reflection and 2 p.m. poetry readings. The Film Society of the Lincoln Center (2001) sponsored a panel discussion titled “Making Movies that Matter: The Role of Film in the National Debate.” Panelists included author bell hooks [sic], Newsweek’s David Ansen, and film directors Raoul Peck and Oliver Stone. 

Advertising objectives related to political statements are varied. For example, the Saatchi & Saatchi (2001) advertising company used its Friday September 21 full-page advertisement to promote a mail-in campaign to postpone the city’s mayoral election and extend Mayor Giuliani’s term to the end of 2002. More stark is the advertisement sponsored by the founder of the Ayn Rand Institute Leonard Peikoff which demands through a 42-point, bold headline in a October 12 full-page, all text advertisement that we “End States Who Sponsor Terrorism” (p. A18).

Physical Characteristics of the Ads

Almost 40% of the advertisements are full-page, 10% half-page, 24% quarter-page, 22% are less than quarter-page, and 4% are coded other. Only 5%, or 29, use color. Nearly 72% are formally balanced or have a centered layout.  Design elements are flush left in 13% of the advertisements, and 15% are informally balanced.

Most of the advertisements, or 73%, use text only, while 27% use some type of art. In advertisements utilizing art, photographs account for 80%, while artist-rendered illustrations are 20%. Subject matters depicted by the art is varied and includes flags 34%, Statue of Liberty 7%, people 17%, political symbols 4%, and other subject types 38%. Only 5% have multiple art elements.

Several of the advertisements used color for startling impact. 

One in 10 advertisements are designed as letters signed by a representative of the sponsor. One in 5 use heavy or decorative borders, and more than half, or 52% use some weight of screen or reverse in its design (see Table 2).

For example, on Sunday, September 16, 2001 Kmart sponsored a full-page, full-color advertisement with the picture of the American flag and instructions saying, “Remove from newspaper. Place in window. Embrace Freedom” (p. A24). The Museum of the City of New York (2001) memorialized “New York’s heroes, living and lost” (p. A15) with a full-color picture from its collection of Edward P. Moran’s painting “Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World” (1886). And 31 Broadway shows and the League of American Theaters and Producers (2001) supported Mayor Giuliani’s invitation to “Come here and spend money. Go to a restaurant, see a show. The life of the city goes on” (p. E7) by cooperatively publishing a full-page advertisement featuring a night-shot of Times Square and the “I Love NY Theater” logo.


Clearly, the role of 9/11-related advertising in the New York Times newspaper following the September 11 terrorist attack was considerable and wide-ranging. But the spontaneous 9/11-related advertisements differ greatly in number and duration from the newspaper advertising following Pearl Harbor and Oklahoma City. No attack-related advertisements were published in the New York Times following Pearl Harbor. Advertisements published following the Oklahoma City bombing were fewer and published for a shorter time. Clearly the volume and breadth of the New York Times’ 9/11-related advertisements signify a unique use of advertising.   

The findings suggest businesses consider strategic and creative considerations when initiating a crisis advertising plan. Findings related to timing suggest a short window of response for the generally large-sized expressions of sympathy appearing in the front sections. The advertisements peak in week 2 and terminate in week 5. Also, clutter may become a factor depending on the number of advertisements. Creative considerations should include size, frequency, color and art to insure maximum message impact.       

Hundreds of sponsors including foreign countries, global companies, religions, cultural institutions, non-profit organizations, and individuals used the New York Times for a variety of purposes. Sympathies, donations, religious and personal services, business assistances, philosophical and political questions and explanations…all are shared through the newspaper’s advertisements.

Throughout many of the pages, more space is devoted to advertisements than editorial content. In many cases, the multiple attack-related advertisements are dominant to, and visually connected with the attack-related editorial copy. This creates an unusual juxtaposition of editorial content that is visually supported by commercial content dealing with similar subject matter. It provides the reader with an unusual opportunity to use the commercial content to validate the reader’s reaction to the editorial content. In a sense, the advertiser and the reader react to the content together.    

As noted, most of the advertisements lack the glamorous graphics typically associated with promotion. These tombstone-like advertisements tend to be formally balanced, text-only messages. The attack’s surprise may have left design staffs with little time for creative innovations. But, the solitude of the text-only format seems more appropriate than the typical graphically busy, multi-color advertisement. The simplicity and directness of the text-only format augments the message’s sincerity. 

In many cases the messages are poignant and personal expressions of anguish. Surprisingly, the expressions of intimacy supported by foreign countries and corporate giants do not seem diminished or trivialized by the impersonal nature of their sponsors.  Rather, the earnestness of these distant sponsors feels genuine and tangible. Likewise, the small, almost indistinguishable advertisements of individuals and small companies seem equal in stature and eloquence to those of larger sponsors. The depth of the message’s sentiment enhances the advertiser’s stature, and the advertisement grows in relevance through its association with 9/11-related content..          

None of us will ever forget the utter surprise and absolute horror of the attacks. All of us remember it as a moment when time stood still, when the daily complexities of life were replaced by a realization of life’s transience and vulnerability. Many of the advertisements address this existential awakening. For a brief moment, the communication of commerce is suspended, and philosophical thoughts about life are expressed as advertisements in the New York Times.   


Comprehensive and detailed lists of information referenced earlier in this paper are included in this appendix.  The information is listed alphabetically.

Foreign Countries Sponsoring Ads  

Foreign countries sponsoring 9/11 advertisements followed by the number of advertisements sponsored include Argentina (2), Australia (2), Brazil, Canada, Commonwealth of the Bahamas, Cyprus, Egypt, Greece, India (2), Israel, Kuwait (2), Lebanon (3), Mexico (2), Netherlands, New Zealand, Puerto Rico (3), Qatar, Saudi Arabia (2), Taiwan, and Turkey (2),

Foreign Cities Sponsoring Advertisements  

Foreign cities sponsoring 9/11 advertisements followed by the number of advertisements sponsored include Baden Wittenberg, Germany; Barcelona, Spain; Berlin, Germany; Geneva, Switzerland; Hamburg Germany; Quebec, Canada (4); and Veracruz, Mexico.

Foreign-related Organizations Sponsoring Advertisements

Foreign-related organizations sponsoring 9/11 advertisements include the American-Arab Antidiscrimination Committee, the American-Greek Association, the Egyptian-American Committee, the Egyptian-Orient Weavers Group, the German-American Committee, the Indian-American Organization, the Indian Software Organization, the Iranian-American Committee, the Islamic Institute, the Iranian-Moslem Committee, the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industries of New York, the Mexico Business Council, the Mexico Security Companies, the Pakistani-American Committee, and the Turkey-American Business Committee.

American States & Cities Sponsoring Ads         

American cities sponsoring 9.11 advertisements include Ft. Lauderdale, FL, Houston, TX, and Miami, FL.

American states sponsoring 9/11 advertisements followed by the number of advertisements sponsored include California (2), Oklahoma, Virginia, and Alabama.           

Cultural Institutions Sponsoring Ads             

Cultural institutions sponsoring 9/11 advertisements include Carnegie Hall, the Dance Theater of Harlem, the Kennedy Center, Lincoln Center, the Lincoln Center Film Society, the Metropolitan Museum, the Metropolitan Opera, the Museum of the City of New York, the Museum of Jewish Heritage, the Museum of Modern Art, the New York Philharmonic, the New York Theater Association, and the Wildlife Conservation Society  


Advertisers Draft Code for Wartime. (March 18, 1942). New York Times, p. A1. 

American Liberty Partnership. (2002). Retrieved August 6, 2002 from http://libertyunites.org/

Bichard, Shannon L. (2002). Stripes and Stars and Selling Cars: An Analysis of Consumer Attitudes Toward Patriotic Themes in Advertising. Paper presented at the annual convention of Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, Miami, FL.

Campbell Mithun. (2001). The Events of 9/11: Implications for Brands and Advertising. Retrieved July 26, 2002 from http://campbellmithun.com, p.8.

Ford Motor Co. (September 24, 2001).New York Times, p. A5.

Founes, William. (December 14, 1941). New York Times, p. 10E.

Ganahl 3rd, Richard J. (2002). Business and Newsweekly Magazines’ September 11 Ads Differ in Message. Unpublished manuscript. Bloomsburg University, Bloomsburg, PA.

Geddes, Anne. (September 28, 2001). New York Times, p. B12.

General Electric. (September 21, 2001). New York Times, p. A13.

General Motors. (September 23, 2001). New York Times, p. A40.

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Krippendorff, K. (1980). Content Analysis: An Introduction to Its Methodology. Newbury Park: Sage.

League of American Theaters and Producers. (September 21, 2001). New York Times, p. E7.

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Metropolitan Museum of Art. (September 21, 2001). New York Times, p. F28.

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National Education Association. (September 14, 2001). New York Times, p. B19.

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NY Sports Club. (September 24, 2001). New York Times, p. A10.

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