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"Tsunami" Ad Offends Memory of September 11 Tragedy

It's enough to turn your stomach.
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It's enough to turn your stomach. Or, if you're a New Yorker who lived through the September 11th attacks, give you a serious case of the heebie-jeebies. An ad, purportedly for the World Wildlife Fund in Brazil, although the U.S. WWF has strongly condemned it -- that features dozens of airplanes converging on lower Manhattan, with the line "The Tsunami Killed 100 Times More People Than 9/11."

The ad was first brought to our attention by Gothamist, but was originally picked up by's AdFreak blog, which reports that the print piece is from the Brazilian arm of the WWF.

Later, it was found that the piece was just for spec, turned out by some questionable creative types at a Brazilian Ad agency.

The 2004 tsunami was a horrible tragedy that killed over 200,000 people, and probably gets less media attention in the West than it deserves, but that's no reason to pick a fight with victims of another horrible tragedy.

AdWeek called the print ad "tasteless and nightmarish," but that's putting it mildly.

The final line in the ad is "The planet is brutally powerful. Respect it. Preserve it."

AdFreak notes that the ad won an award in the "public awareness sector" and is credited to agency DDB Brazil for WWF-Brazil -- but said it ran in Israel, of all places.

A representative for the US headquarters of WWF said they had been unaware of the offensive poster until today.

"We strongly condemn both the message and the images portrayed," said the WWF-US spokesman Steve Ertel when first asked about the advertisement.

Later, the organization issued an even stronger worded statement saying:

"WWF strongly condemns this offensive and tasteless ad and did not authorize its production or publication. It is our understanding that it was a concept offered by an outside advertising agency seeking our business in Brazil. The concept was summarily rejected by WWF and should never have seen the light of day," the statement said.

For its part, the ad agency DDB also moved to distance itself.

“The ‘Tsunami’ ad for World Wildlife Fund Brazil was created by a team at DDB Brasil in December 2008. The team in question is no longer with the Agency. DDB Brasil apologizes to anyone who was offended or affected by the ad. It should never have been made and it does not portray the philosophy of the agency.”

After the Brazilian arm of WWF later indicated that it was actually somewhat involved in creating the ad, WWF-US released another statement:

“WWF Brazil has subsequently issued statements that have raised doubts about whether the ad concept was approved at some level within the WWF Brazil organization.

“We have now re-launched a renewed inquiry into the circumstance surrounding the creation of the ad. Additionally, we are using every resource at our disposal to remove these images everywhere they exist online because they are hurtful and disrespectful to the victims of 9-11 and their families.

“We deeply regret that the information we provided, while given in good faith, may not have been completely accurate. We stand by our earlier statements that the ad was utterly inappropriate and should never have seen the light of day. It does not in any way reflect the thoughts and feelings of the people of World Wildlife Fund. Again, WWF-US strongly condemns this ad and offers our sincere and heartfelt apologies."