I learned that foreigners are less important than Dutch people, when they die. The fatal ‘Buk’ rocket killed 298 people. More than half of these were Dutch. As a consequence, all the Dutch media kept asking about the exact number of Dutch casualties. That number took over the entire conversation. How many? Everyone at the press conference gasped in shock. Clearly, this number made the disaster much, much worse. It was pretty bad for Australia too. They came in second, with 28 dead.
Wikipedia tells me that news isn’t news unless it is relevant and unexpected. As it turns out, things that happen to people in other countries usually aren’t that interesting. (Except when Suarez sinks his teeth in someone. He makes the headlines every time).

“Then they wondered out loud how they should ‘share’ their grief on Facebook”

On the subway, I overheard two twenty-year old girls openly bragging about how many people they knew on the plane. One claimed she knew two of the victims. The other raised her by one. Then they wondered out loud how they should ‘share’ their grief on Facebook. They actually debated on what would land them more attention: a single condolence post, or maybe three separate ones. They were both sure they would become more popular after this event.

It wasn’t my stop. But I got out.

I learned that at this moment, there are 44 wars being fought worldwide. Also, did you know that people die in rocket attacks every day? They also die from machetes, landmines and suicide bombs. But apparently, a slow but steady stream of casualties does not matter as much. Impact is crucial. Focus your efforts for maximum exposure.

One thing I can’t get out of my mind.
Those trucks loaded with ‘Buk’ rockets were built and sold. Somebody somewhere markets these things. And business must be booming. I imagine he has promotional movies and flyers and posters, featuring excellent product photography, and infographics to give a quick insight on the benefits of a “62 kg blast fragmentation warhead initiated by a dual-mode radar proximity fuze”. Buy one, get one free. I imagine he’s making a killing.

There are so many things about this plane crash that rub me the wrong way. People trying to decide on whether or not to hold a nation wide Day of Mourning. (I think that if you have to hold a meeting to decide, you are not in mourning.). About Grave robbing militia and mindless reporters, browsing personal belongings. (‘We shouldn’t really be doing this, I suppose..’). The ‘intense phone call’ our utterly powerless PM had with Mr. Putin. But what is most striking about this horrible tragedy is the silence. After weeks and weeks of Orange hamsters and Sambashirts, Suarez the Vampire and Brazilian versus German waxing, there was only silence. I’m not suggesting using tragedies as an advertising opportunity. But is there nothing to say, if there is nothing to sell? Brands are offering things 24/7. I wonder what would happen when a brand offered sincere sympathy and compassion. What does that even look like?

“But as soon as there really is something to say, we all shut up. Maybe it’s because we are paid to be funny and clever”

We creatives are continuously applauded for our fantastic efforts. We throw each other rings and lamps and cubes and pencils and lions for coming up with our masterful campaigns. But as soon as there really is something to say, we all shut up. We all shut down. Maybe it’s because we are paid to be funny and clever. And you don’t make jokes or pick up chicks at a funeral. It’s just not done. Still, advertising is the art of persuasion. I believe we must persuade to do more than buy more six packs. And I believe compassion should be bigger than our passport.

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Maarten Boer