A couple of days ago, AT&T and other brands took a lot of flack online for using the anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks as subject matter for advertising and social media promotions. "Still too soon," is the general response.
But what about something that happened more than a century ago? Red Bull probably thought that the 1912 sinking of the RMS Titanic was fair game for a laugh. Sure, more than 1500 people died that night. But surely with the passing of time, and survivors, this one is fair game for a gag?
Apparently not. The Telegraph reports that Britain's Advertising Standards Authority has received 42 complaints about the ad, calling it "tasteless" and "offensive" (although they haven't yet launched any action against it). Clifford Ismay, a relative of Titanic owner Joseph Bruce Ismay, called it "despicable."
Howard Nelson, founder of The Titanic Heritage Trust, went into detail:
"It is very offensive and just disrespectful. We appreciate there will be commercial ventures involving the Titanic which we say is fine - as long as it is in good taste and respectful.
This is not.
There is a difference between making a joke and this. I get jokes all the time about icebergs and the like, taking the mick out of my interest in the Titanic, but that is banter. This is blatantly offensive because it is taking the mick out of the people who have passed away.
It would be the same if someone did something similar about 9/11 - there would be an uproar. This is no different."Is it no different? I've grown up with the Titanic as more of a symbol than as a real event, since it's such an icon in popular culture. People have been making Titanic jokes, and using the ship's sinking as a clichéd metaphor, for generations. I can understand why Red Bull didn't anticipate the backlash.
But perhaps the biggest difference between the Titanic and horrors such as 9/11 or the Holocaust is that the ship's sinking was a tragedy while terrorism and genocide are something much worse. To joke about the latter isn't just to joke about death, but to make light of the human evils that deliberately caused those deaths. That's the difference.
Not to say that the Red Bull ad is tasteful, mind you.
But in my opinion it's not as bad as what The Onion was implying with their horrifying satire of opportunistic 9/11 ads:
Feels different, doesn't it?