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Marketing America: All about broadcasting national pride

July 3, 2024

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muffin on dollars with American flag for national pride
Photo by Pexels user Karolina Grabowska

You see it in an ad for a presidential candidate – or a commercial for a pickup truck. American patriotism has been in marketing and advertising for a long time, and for a good reason: it makes consumers feel good, and it makes companies money. 

But patriotic marketing isn’t as simple as you might think. Companies have to be conscious about the national pride they want to drum up, especially since consumers have different ideas of what it means to be proud of their country. 

If you are American, you buy American

While it’s hard to measure precisely how many patriotic marketing ads are out there, it’s safe to say that a lot of money is spent on keeping national pride alive.

For example, Politico reported in 2015 that then-Arizona Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake investigated the Pentagon for spending millions of dollars on contracts with professional sports leagues for “patriotic displays at games and events.”

But patriotic marketing existed long before that time.

Brooks Simpson, an ASU Foundation professor of history at Arizona State University, said patriotism in marketing and advertising can be traced back to the Civil War, when individual people – like war generals and politicians – were featured in promotional materials and linked to goods and services, rather than values and holidays. 

Patriotic marketing is particularly prevalent during wars, after national tragedies, and during other periods of fear or uncertainty. Simpson said that in such times, American patriotism becomes more than just a company value.

“I think it’s more that the way that [Americans] can express their patriotic fervor is by going out and buying a certain product,” he said. “After [the terrorist attacks of] 9/11, there was talk about one of the best ways to have revenge against the terrorists was to go out shopping and show things were normal.”

Buying products made within the United States is also seen as an expression of national pride. Simpson said that for a time, Walmart ran with this idea when it sold American-made items.

“It used to be, ‘You bought American if you went to Walmart,’” he said. 

Despite more overseas manufacturing, the “buy American” message still makes its way into some marketing, if only subliminally. 

“I think for example, when we see advertisements for American-made or manufactured trucks as a notion that buying a truck is a patriotic statement – it’s a very American thing to do,” Simpson said. “And no one talks about buying electric cars as an American thing to do.”

Marketing based on values 

Nooshin Warren, associate professor of marketing and Eller faculty fellow at the University of Arizona Eller College of Management, said patriotic marketing is a strategy for companies to align their moral values with those of their target consumers.

“Just the love for the country is a value. It’s a non-business value to consumers,” Warren said. Instead of focusing on the features of a good or service, this kind of marketing is centered around ideals that the company says it lives up to. 

Values are a major priority to modern consumers, according to the 2024 Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report: Brands and Politics, which surveyed 15,000 people across 15 countries. The report said that globally, 84% of the respondents agreed they need to share values with a brand in order to buy from it. In addition, 64% said they consider a “person like myself” to be a credible brand spokesperson.

Warren noted, however, that consumers will only get the message if it’s genuine. That means a company has to do more than just draping an American flag on an advertisement.

“If you are saying, ‘We are all for America, we’re all for American people’ – and then you’re the one who dodges taxes, not all consumers would see that as an authentic message, and that can hurt,” Warren said. 

Still, companies have to be careful about the values they choose to align themselves with, especially if keeping that promise comes with a price tag. For example, Warren said, a company that markets itself as patriotic might have to invest in data protection to show its commitment to protecting Americans from foreign cyber attacks.

“It might actually not be that beneficial for the company in terms of revenue because its consumers might not even know the cost will increase the price of the product, too,” she said. “So, it’s not as straightforward to see who benefits from it monetary-wise.”

Warren said that at the end of the day, brand identity is the main benefit a company gets from standing by any value, be it health, social justice or patriotism.

What is patriotism? It depends on who you ask.

Because there’s no single agreed-upon definition of patriotism, it can be a difficult value for companies to latch onto. 

Simpson said that some think American patriotism means championing every part of the country unconditionally. Others, he said, think that “true patriotism involves embracing of the nation’s ideals – sometimes to call out the nation for not living up to those ideals.”

Warren said that companies if they want to market themselves as patriotic, they have to know what audiences think patriotism means. And like any marketing or advertising campaign, it comes down to paying attention: “Knowing their culture, their needs, their wants, [companies] have to then tailor their messaging, – whether it’s in advertising or any other kind of messaging to the consumers – according to that.”

Author

  • Naomi DuBovis

    Naomi DuBovis is pursuing a bachelor's degree in journalism and mass communication from the Cronkite School with a minor in music performance. She plans to graduate from Barrett, the Honors College.

    Naomi worked on the podcast desk at the...

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