Super Bowl Ad Uses Footage Of 9/11 To Sell Historical Vacation


Watching the Super Bowl for the commercials was an unexpectedly bleak way to spend a Sunday night this year.

Colonial Williamsburg, that place in Virginia you may have visited on a school field trip, tried to encourage viewers to travel there in a commercial that used footage of one of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the Twin Towers in New York.

NBC anchor Tom Brokaw narrated the commercial, which featured various moments in American history played in reverse. The intended meaning -- besides convincing you to spend money on hotels, restaurants and ghost tours in Colonial Williamsburg -- was to position the area as the birthplace of America.

However, the commercial makes no mention of Colonial Williamsburg's role as the former capital of Virginia or being the home of College of William & Mary (the alma mater of Thomas Jefferson and, as full disclosure, the author of this article), which seems more fitting than the historical clips they did air.

The footage of 9/11 was used in context to signify a hardship Americans have overcome. The overall idea for the video seemed to posit that without Colonial Williamsburg, the featured moments in American history wouldn't have happened. This works for raising the American flag at Iwo Jima. It kind of, sort of works for Barack Obama's election. But saying we wouldn't have had 9/11 without Colonial Williamsburg seems like a misguided moment for a Super Bowl commercial.

The commercial aired in the New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. areas.


UPDATE: Response from Joe Straw, Manager, Public Relations, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

In the days leading up to the Super Bowl, Colonial Williamsburg released an extended online version of its advertisement through its various social media channels. The ad garnered thousands of likes and shares alongside hundreds of positive comments within the hour. Youtube reviews alone ran 10-1 in favor of the ad. Its popularity, and the discussion of the events depicted in the ad, led to the conversation "trending" on Facebook.

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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