Brand Patriotism and the Fourth of July: The Politicizing of Holiday Campaigns

Holidays, like Christmas, Hanukkah, and Valentine's Day, are a marketer’s dream. With Winter Holiday spending in excess of $1 trillion dollars and Valentine's Day gift giving costs nearing $20 billion (including over $800 million spent on pets!), there is good reason behind holiday themed marketing.

One holiday which is increasingly getting the attention of marketers and advertisers is the Fourth of July, during which consumers spend close to $7 billion annually (including over $1.4 billion on meat and another $1.5 billion on alcoholic drinks). Needless to say, when measured by spending habits, the country's patriotic spirit is thriving.

And brands are taking notice.

While consumers are bombarded with advertising that is both subtly and staunchly patriotic year round, many brands increase their America themed advertising leading up to the Fourth of July.

There are brands which have woven an element of the American identity into their image, such as Budweiser, Levi’s, and just about every car brand (Ford, Dodge, Jeep, General Motors). While these brands are able to leverage an American image into a profitable strategy, not all patriotic advertising campaigns are successful. As Ad Week pointedly highlights “Flag-waving spots can so easily come off as cheesy and/or opportunistic. It's rare to see a patriotic commercial that feels legitimately poignant—or at least not flagrantly exploitative.” There is a fine line between genuine and promotional patriotism, and today's savvy consumer is becoming more attune to the difference.

The “Patriotic Branding Boom,” has seen consistent growth over the last few years. However, patriotism is becoming an increasingly contentions topic in today’s political climate, even for brands who have ‘America’ instilled unwaveringly into their brand image. References to topics ensnared in social, national or political hot-button issues are often hijacked by political controversy. For instance, Budweiser - a company which rebranded itself for the summer as ‘America’ (to mixed reviews) - received flack for its Super Bowl commercial that highlighted their immigrant founder achieving the stereotypical American dream. Despite a company wide assertion that the ad had nothing to do with politics, many viewers found the piece damaging of the current administration or anti-American. Meanwhile other brands, like AirBnB, are intentionally embracing a political stance on issues such as diversity and immigration.

Brands have differing positions and political affinities, and a political stance is not necessarily productive for the bottom line for many brands. While some brands are choosing to outwardly project a stance on an topic, others are actively working to remain neutral and out of the spotlight. Taking a stand on a contentious topic can both build brand loyalty and invite criticism, as was the result of Audi’s 2017 Super Bowl ad “Daughter” which was heralded as both powerful, for taking a stance against the gender wage gap, and hypocritical, as Audi’s record on gender equality is inconsistent.

Above all else, brands and their agency partners must be diligent about the content they are producing. To avoid major, unintended blunders (think Pepsi), content consciousness is crucial.

smith & beta offers workshops, such as the class “Shiny, Shareable, Content”, which aim to help brands improve their understanding of how to develop a content mission, achieve maximum reach, identify targets and touch points across platforms, and create a customer-centric content strategy maps. These workshops prepare attendees and organizations with the skills necessary to navigate the increasingly muddled world of politics and contested topics. Well fleshed out campaigns, whether intentionally taking or avoiding a stance, require thoughtful content to both achieve desired results and avoid unintended backlash.

Unfortunately for brands, holidays like the Fourth of July and the Winter Holidays are becoming increasingly politicized. While brands continue to embrace these holidays as profitable windows, most are being extra cautious to avoid taking any stance which could be considered even remotely political.

On the bright side, Valentine's Day has seemingly stayed controversy free. A heart themed campaign anyone?

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