A Super Bowl ad for Colonial Williamsburg disturbed some viewers Sunday night because it featured footage from the Sept. 11 terror attacks, showing the World Trade Center's North Tower collapsing in reverse.
The 1-minute ad narrated by NBC News' Tom Brokaw depicts iconic moments from American history, like the first flight and the civil rights movement. It also includes scenes of war and, to the shock of some, the World Trade Center being destroyed.
All of the footage in the ad plays in reverse, ultimately leading up to Colonial Williamsburg’s tagline: “It started here.” The north tower of the WTC is shown reforming upwards from a ball of smoke and debris.
Colonial Williamsburg is a non-profit foundation in Virginia that operates what it calls the largest living history museum in the U.S.
It didn’t take long before viewers of the ad -- which only aired in New York City, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. -- took to social media to express their disapproval.
“Colonial Williamsburg ad evoking 9/11 has been biggest display of offense this whole Super Bowl,” Ethan Sacks tweeted.
“Using 9/11 for commercial purposes is as uncool as using Auschwitz,” Alex Polkhovsky said.
“Saturday Night Live” cast member Taran Killam also took to Twitter to voice his displeasure with the ad. He received a couple of responses from Colonial Williamsburg’s official Twitter account.
“Did Colonial Williamsburg just show 9/11 footage in reverse? Seems a bit unearned,” Killam tweeted.
Colonial Williamsburg responded to Killam: “It is painful. Without question. But what’s worse? Remembering, or forgetting?”
Killam tweeted back: “’Undoing it feels like a form of forgetting. I think that’s my issue. I don’t see the correlation with your establishment.”
To which Colonial Williamsburg tweeted: “Forgetting is not an option! Every generation has a defining moment. For us: 9/11. Knowledge of history = civic responsibility.”
Some tweeted in support of Colonial Williamsburg, saying they got the pro-history message that the tourist destination was trying to evoke.
Others said that the ad didn't offend them but simply confused them.
Either way, the ad is shaping up to be the talked-about ad of the year, following in the footsteps of Nationwide’s “dead kid” ad last year.
The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation said in a statement to the Washington Post that when the ad was released on social media in the days leading up to the Super Bowl it "garnered thousands of likes and shares alongside hundreds of positive comments within the hour."
"We understand and respect that some of the images depicted in the ad are jarring," the statement said. "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."
The statement went on to say that the ad's message was "all that is past is prologue."
"We cannot forget our sacrifices or our tragedies even as we celebrate our accomplishments," the statement added. "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."