In 2005, advertising company Saatchi & Saatchi China thought it appropriate to merge the concept of 9/11 with Lego in order to create this print ad entitled ‘Rebuild it.’ The advert depicts the buildings of New York City made out of Lego, with the central focus being the burning Towers in the middle of the scene. The advert implies that the damage depicted is reversible; it can be simply be ‘rebuilt’ with Lego pieces. Needless to say this controversial advert generated world-wide outrage after it was published on the internet and led Lego to withdraw it after making a formal apology stating that the two employees responsible had since been fired.
Aside from the fact that its target market would be young children, the reasons why this advert simply does not work run deeper than its obvious lack of taste and sensitivity. The ad attempts to use a metaphor; a persuasive technique that when used effectively can guide information processing, and lead the viewer to change how they interpret a focal aspect of an important issue. For example, Thibodeau & Boroditsky (2011) found that the way participants conceptualise crime was influenced by whether it was referred to as a virus or as a beast. In the first of their experiments, half of participants read an article in which crime was referred to as the beast; with the other half reading the same article with the word beast replaced with virus.
Of those who read that crime was a beast ravaging the city, 71% of participants proposed that the problem should be addressed using enforcement – active efforts should be made to fight back against the crime and more jails should be built to cage criminals. Conversely, those who read that crime was a virus were instead more likely to endorse social reforms as a way of managing the problem. Therefore, changing just one word led to a completely different interpretation of the issue at hand. In the case of this advert, by presenting the words ‘Rebuild it’ in reference to the depicted scene of destruction, Lego attempt to invite thought about rebuilding (using Lego pieces) as opposed to damage.
While in theory this may be a legitimate effort, reference to 9/11 in this context does nothing for Lego apart from detract attention from its brand to thoughts of September 11th, making the advert entirely unsuccessful.
Thibodeau, P. H., & Boroditsky, L. (2011). Metaphors we think with: The role of metaphor in reasoning. PLoS One, 6, 167-182.