Last updated: 12:07 PM ET, Tue February 09 2016

Did 9/11 Footage in Colonial Williamsburg's Super Bowl Ad Go Too Far?

Destination & Tourism | Rich Thomaselli | February 09, 2016

Did 9/11 Footage in Colonial Williamsburg's Super Bowl Ad Go Too Far?

Photo via YouTube

Colonial Williamsburg, the living-history tourist attraction in Virginia, is being criticized in the wake of using footage from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks as part of a Super Bowl advertisement meant to draw more visitors.

A bevy of commenters on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have chided the organization for airing the footage in a 60-second spot that features highlights of great moments in American history being shown in reverse – such as the first cars rolling off the assembly line, the first flight of the Wright Brothers, D-Day, the election of the first African-American president, and many more.

The video is set to the narration of former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw, who talks of “coming a long way in 200 years, including barriers broken, courage we’ve shown and, yes, our heartbreaks.” It is during that part of the narration that the commercial shows two pieces of footage – the funeral of assassinated President John F. Kennedy, and the collapse of one of the Twin Towers. Again, in rewind.

Here is the ad:

This was not a national ad on Super Bowl 50, one that advertisers paid $4.5 million for 30 seconds. It was one of the many regional, or local, advertising slots left open by CBS that come at a reduced rate since they be seen by far less than the estimated 100 million+ viewers nationwide.

Nonetheless, this ad aired in highly populated areas affected by Sept. 11 – New York, Washington D.C. and Philadelphia.

Ostensibly, Colonial Williamsburg officials described the ad as a reflection of America’s past, with the hook being that our history started in Williamsburg. But in the minds of many viewers, it all went awry once the footage of the Twin Towers was shown.

One commenter on Colonial Williamsburg’s YouTube channel, going by the handle ConceptualViral, wrote “… Using 9-11 to pimp tourism? Not cool. … Really, in your attempt to show you're at the roots of America, you showed an insensitivity to something very real to a great many people. You've shown that the people who approved this ad, wrote this ad, and executed this horrible ad, are, in fact totally disconnected with the American experience. That's a response. The one I'm sure Tim was trying to politely give you. This ad is terrible. How many Virginians died at the Pentagon that day? Think it's cool to leverage that tragic event for profit? Wow.?”

And these comments on Twitter:


In a statement released today, Colonial Williamsburg said "We understand and respect that some of the images depicted in the ad are jarring. However, the small data point of people who objected to some of the imagery in the ad does not represent the total viewership. Not even close. We have received an outpouring of support on social media for the ad and its simple, powerful message: All that is past is prologue. Our ad is meant to walk viewers backwards through time, challenging them to reflect on how our collective history and struggles shape who we are as Americans today. We cannot forget our sacrifices or our tragedies even as we celebrate our accomplishments. Colonial Williamsburg does not shy away from these difficult moments in our history because they have made us who we are just as surely as our many triumphs."


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