Volume 44 Number 1
Creative Marketing: Waving the Flag and Marketing
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The Earth-shattering events of Sept. 11 seem to have generated a continuous tidal wave of patriotism in the United States, perhaps not seen since World War II. Homes and autos are still emblazoned with the Stars and Stripes in the forms of flags and decals. Red-white-and-blue shirts and jackets informally complement colorful "flag" lapel pins for business attire. Our home is proudly part of this display and I hope yours is, too.
All well and fine, but some businesses cross the line. I'm talking about the line between appropriate patriotic display of our nation's colors in time of war -- and crass commercialization of the American flag by calculating or just plain insensitive companies using every angle to stimulate sales and customer loyalty in these difficult economic times.
In the case of businesses, it's not a question of who displays the flag, or where or when. It is a question of how.
Keep the flag away from company logos
One company that crossed the line is the Ford Motor Company, which recently opened a 30-second TV commercial, on a promotional "sales event" theme, with a full-screen close-up of a waving U.S. flag. What's wrong with that? Only that the fluttering flag soon dissolves into a Ford sales message and logo. It's not an appropriate use of our nation's image, if the sole purpose is to catch your eye for a commercial sales message. Ford isn't alone in this indiscretion nor is it the most blatant in its sales pitch. Still, if this isn't an offensive use of our flag, it's certainly an inappropriate use to millions of viewers. Why risk offending potential customers?
Last November, I attended a national trade show (not water-related) where a leading manufacturer and exhibitor chose to give away handsome lapel pins to attendees.
Nothing unusual about that. But the custom pin, of unusual quality, displayed the company logo flanked by two American flags. Maybe this company thought people who see their pin on a lapel will get the message that this company (not an American-based firm, by the way) is twice as patriotic as their competitors! I think many who were handed this pin will never wear it because of the blatant commercial tie-in. What do you think?
Fundraising: tread lightly
For example, the poll found that 74 percent of Americans feel it's appropriate for companies to "hold fundraising events to support victims." More than 60 percent feel it's appropriate to "tie a percentage of the proceeds (sale price) of a product or service to support victims."
To donate or not
Picking the wrong charity could generate ill will. Thousands of businesses rallied behind the American Red Cross Liberty Fund, created in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. The fund quickly raised $550 million, pledged directly to disaster relief. When the organization later announced that $250 million would be diverted to their "general fund," critics were quick to point out that donors contributed as generously as they did because they thought their money would be channeled quickly and directly to the victims and families of the attacks.
According to the Association of Fundraising Professionals, all worthy charities must meet these standards:
Profiting vs. profiteering
Profiteering, on the other hand, is the act of charging exorbitant prices to capitalize unreasonably on a shortage. It's never excusable.
American businesses should look at this war as a marketing condition and begin to do business accordingly. While the tone of your advertising will certainly change to reflect the national mood, the objective remains the same: Get people to buy stuff.
If people want drinking water systems that control bacteria and viruses as well as chemical contaminants -- make them and sell them. And if you choose to donate a percentage of your profits to relief-providing charities, more power to you!
The best way for marketers to answer the terrorist acts of Sept. 11 is by doing what they do best. That is, driving what's still the most vibrant and free economy in the world.
About the author
'War on terrorism': Marketer's checklist
Here are some tips to consider while promoting your business, product or service:
* Don't overprint logos or commercial sales messages over the American flag,