Patriotic Holiday Tips for Marketers

It’s the time of year when the United States observes several patriotic holidays, marketers should understand what each one observes

Several years ago — during Memorial Day Weekend — a high school student who knew I was in the Navy said to me, “Happy Memorial Day — thank you for your service and sacrifice.” I thanked him for his kind words, but then I added: “But I’m not dead.” I know this shocked him as it did his parents.

I didn’t say this out of spite or to question his sincerity in what he said. What I wanted to do was share with him why we observe Memorial Day or, more importantly, who we honor — those who died in the service of their country. For me, President Truman said it best in these words that can be found in the WW II Memorial on the Mall in Washington DC.

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Credit: © Jixue Yang |

In our current post-Vietnam (and now post 9/11) American society, no one ever wants to be seen as unappreciative of our military. So much so, that we tend to make every symbolic American holiday a rallying cry for “Supporting our Troops.” We thank them and our veterans for their service and sometimes, like my young friend above, forget the actual meaning of the holiday. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that Americans should not support our troops or that we should not show our gratitude to all veterans — by all means, we should.

What I am suggesting, however, is that as Americans, we need to acknowledge that our symbolic holidays are unique and created with a specific purpose in mind and reflect on that. This perspective is no different for companies and brands. Marketers looking to create content around these holidays need to serve as honest brokers of the messaging in patriotic holiday promotions. Inappropriate messaging is off-putting and may do more harm to a brand’s reputation than good. To assist in developing content, here is a summary of a few of America’s key patriotic holidays.

Armed Forces Day

On the third Saturday in May, we celebrate Armed Forces Day — a day started back in 1949 to honor all the Armed Forces. Yet unless someone lives near a military or naval base, your community probably fails to celebrate or even acknowledge it. This day celebrates and honors all those who are currently serving. Companies located near military installations could treat this holiday as an opportunity to honor their military neighbors by creating content to promote its significance. Nationally, brands could also observe this day and help raise awareness with their customers.

Memorial Day

Originally called Decoration Day, Memorial Day began after the Civil War, and communities observed it on May 30th for nearly a century. In the late 1960’s it became a federal holiday and was officially moved to the fourth Monday in May. Unfortunately, Memorial Day weekend is now considered the “official start” of Summer, with most marketing efforts focused on that theme. Brands wishing to observe the holiday as intended, need to be reverent and emphasize the ultimate sacrifice that one can give to their country. This type of content can be tricky, but if done well may offer an opportunity to engage consumers authentically.

Independence Day

Independence Day is probably the most sacred of American patriotic holidays. There is no doubt that the military is paramount to protecting our freedoms and defending our Constitution — from the days of the Continental Army & Navy to now. So, it is fitting to honor both those who are serving and have served in the Armed Forces. Nevertheless, we would be remiss if we allow Independence Day celebrations to only honor the military. Celebrating the birth of our country demands much more, we should celebrate all Americans. In addition to our armed forces, many Americans played essential roles in this ongoing experiment of democracy. Brands wishing to promote an Independence Day theme should not limit themselves to honoring just the military. Besides the military, consider how each of the following types of people has been critical to America’s success:

  • American Workers
  • Educators
  • Protestors
  • Business Owners
  • Immigrants
  • Civil Service
  • Elected Official
  • Faith Leaders

This view is even more true in 2020. With the COVID-19 pandemic, consider how medical professionals, first responders, grocery store employees, and sanitation professionals have also been essential to American life. Maybe this year, Independence Day could and should honor them.

Veterans Day

Although not celebrated until November 11th, Veterans Day is another sacred patriotic holidays. It is the day that we honor all Veterans and their service to our country. Its history dates back to WW I and the commemoration of Armistice Day — the historical end date of “the war to end all wars.” Today, many businesses offer special promotions and discounts during this holiday. There is another approach that companies might consider. Instead of focusing outward, they could look inward and identify how many of their employees are veterans and honor them — that very well may be an excellent marketing campaign too.

As we all get ready to observe Memorial Day this year, brands should take a moment to reflect on the occasion instead of promoting the start of Summer. Likewise, for each of America’s patriotic observations (Armed Forces Day, Veterans Day, and Independence Day), consider what the holiday means, recognize and focus marketing promotion on that.

Author’s note: I served in the United States Navy for 22 years, retiring in 2009.

Founder of Cynosura Consulting, offering unique and practical perspectives on marketing and sustainability as well as thoughts on life.

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