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Cisco's unfortunate airplane commercial during coverage of flight 1549

January 16, 2009 | 12:51 pm

Planecrash2 Let's say you're a big-name advertiser, and one of your TV commercials mocks airplanes, flying and water landings. You probably wouldn't want to run that ad during CNN's coverage of US Airways Flight 1549, which crash-landed Thursday in the Hudson River, right? Unfortunately for tech giant Cisco Systems, it's sometimes difficult to pull such an ad from TV networks across the country in the unlikely event of a water landing.

Cisco's Travel Less, Save More commercial begins with a man talking to the screen, welcoming people to flight 1120. Various people recite familiar flight attendant lines throughout the ad, talking about how to buckle a seat belt, how oxygen masks will drop from the ceiling and what will happen in the "unlikely" event of a water landing. They wear floating devices. They play with oxygen masks. Then the ad ends with a voice-over about the "endless hours" lost to airport delays.

Some people watching real-life coverage of US Airways flight 1549 yesterday on CNN saw the ad during a commercial break. They were treated to the jarring feeling of watching real-life coverage of ...

... the crash followed by a commercial that mocks flying and safety instructions.

"They go right from having some guy interviewed talking about the pilot saying, 'Brace yourself,' to a commercial being sarcastic about the emergency stuff. It creeped me out," said Lauren de la Fuente, a marketing consultant from New York who was fixated on TV coverage of the crash. "I thought, 'This is the most inappropriate commercial for the time.' "

Cisco naturally wasn't too pleased either. Any time there's a big news incident, advertising professionals work to pull ads that may offend viewers by hitting a little too close to home. That's why you probably won't be seeing any airline commercials soon. Unfortunately for Cisco though, planes fall from the sky more quickly than the ad departments of TV networks can move.

"As soon as Cisco became aware of the news of the US Airways Flight 1549 water landing, we asked our advertising agency to pull the Cisco advertisement that references air travel," spokesman David McCulloch said in an e-mail Friday. "Because the campaign was in national distribution it took some time to have all the spots removed, and unfortunately a few spots aired as late as yesterday evening."

Don't blame Cisco, said Mike Sheldon, president of ad agency Deutsch LA. It can be a logistical nightmare to pull spots from networks, especially if they're not running during a live show. Even if you put all of your employees on the task of calling the networks, sometimes that's not enough.

"Nobody’s clairvoyant," he said. "I'm sure Cisco had no intention of offending anyone."

-- Alana Semuels

Photo by Gustav H via Flickr

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