It's difficult to know where to begin in trying to convey a sense
of what the impact has been so far here of the devastating attacks last
week on New York and Washington.
It's daunting in many ways to write about the effects of those assaults
knowing that most of the people reading these words work or live in a
city where it has been standard operating procedure for decades to
assume that life may be interrupted at a moment's notice by an
explosion. You are all too familiar with, on one end of the scale,
sudden terror, and on the other, the tedium resulting from the need to
evacuate work for yet another phoned-in bomb threat that turns out to be
a false alarm.
We, however, are relative newcomers to living under the shadow of doubt
and fear, the gnawing caused by continuous anxiety, the realisation that
the term "losing clients" can take on a horrifyingly literal
The severity of the attacks - not even the Nazis blew up Paris - and the
targeting of what Kevin Roberts, the chief executive officer at Saatchi
& Saatchi, calls "the symbols of our wealth and achievement", have
combined to numb and depress virtually everyone on Madison Avenue,
whether or not directly affected by the events of 11 September.
That poses a tremendous problem for an industry whose mission is to, as
Roberts puts it, "create joy and uplift", the better to stimulate
American consumers to continue to keep their wallets and purses open.
That's crucial because consumer spending accounts for two-thirds of
Consumer confidence was already dented by large layoffs and the dotcom
debacle, which caused trauma by shrinking the value of most stock
Now comes the need to confront the aftermath of what's widely being
described as the deadliest day ever on United States soil.
The big question is whether the traditional American spirit of
optimistic, buoyant resiliency will reassert itself or whether the
nation will be plunged into a psychological depression that will trigger
an economic recession. The start of the Gulf War in August 1990
precipitated a sudden shutdown of consumer spending, particularly in
travel-related marketing categories, that forced the economy into a
downturn - the most severe for advertising until the one that has hit in
The challenges confronting advertisers and their agencies are
Should there be special ads with patriotic themes, or will they be
dismissed as jingoistic? (That's a special concern here, where waving
the flag is a speciality even in times when people do not feel compelled
by crises to rally around it.)
Are humorous ads inappropriate now, or will they be welcomed as
delightful momentary diversions? Will ads addressing the attacks be
considered compassionate or crassly commercial?
And can the content of ads be screened carefully enough to avoid
inadvertently offending consumers, or will such scrutiny be deemed
One agency principal is already wondering whether an ad showing a
photograph of lower Manhattan - originally shot in a neighbourhood where
the World Trade Centre was not visible - ought to be scrapped.
Of course, some ads ought to go, such as one promoting the start of a
new season of the ABC sitcom Dharma & Greg, which says: "In a single
second, your entire life changes forever."