Cosmopolitan creatives, raised in a world of globalised marketing, might be forgiven for being a little wary about overt patriotism in advertising and branding. It can be done very clumsily – slapping the flag on a pack and sending audiences to sleep with boasts about “brand heritage”.
But there’s no denying national pride is a powerful cultural force – now more than ever, you might add, looking at the electoral victories of populist or outright nationalist parties around the world. That’s another reason marketers are wary, of course – patriotism has its very ugly side, and brands don’t want to get burned by association.
At this year's World Cup, for instance, UK marketers have generally shied away from the England team, with only supermarket Lidl using them prominently. The result is that they've missed out on a surge of public goodwill towards a surprisingly successful side.
But our database and FeelMore50 lists are full of examples of brands getting it right, using patriotism to make 5-Star ads and build strong brands. Here are some ways to do it well.
DRAW ON HISTORY
Not, we hasten to add, “brand history”. But in this ad from 2017, Pedigree managed to make a patriotic commercial in a very divided America, by reaching back into history to find a story it could tell. Its Revolutionary War tale had plenty of brand relevance but was stirring enough to merit a 5-Star score.
Lamb Australia have built a reputation for their creative and irreverent Australia Day ads. In 2017 they opted to celebrate diversity in their “You Never Lamb Alone” spot, with a parade of Australians of all kinds. It’s the kind of tolerant, inclusive message that many brands want to embrace right now. Where Lamb Australia got it right was taking a tongue-in-cheek tone and making a spot that was entertaining rather than preachy. Patriotism doesn’t have to be a serious subject. And it doesn’t have to be intolerant, either.
DON’T BE AFRAID OF STEREOTYPES
Elsewhere on the blog we’re celebrating the best World Cup ads this year. Top of the list was this 5-Star spot for Portugal’s Galp energy brand – a wickedly funny ad which shows both intense pride in Portugal but also the country’s ability to laugh at its own defensiveness.
MAKE A STATEMENT
For a country stereotyped as easy-going, Canada produces quite a lot of patriotic ads. None better than this 5-Star tear-jerker focusing on an immigrant to Canada welcoming his family to their new home. With immigration a hot button issue in the USA, there was an opportunity for a Canadian brand to touch hearts by emphasising their very different approach. The ad attracted the typical haters on YouTube, but in testing, it was a major emotional success and made a bold statement about Canadian values.
For some brands, national identity is a central value – the flag carrier airlines of individual nations, for instance. But even they don’t have a monopoly on patriotic marketing. There’s a famous story about British Airways’ failed 90s rebrand, which was designed to drop the Union Jack on its tailfins in favour of multi-coloured ‘global’ designs. Rival Virgin Atlantic pounced, quickly installing the national flag on its fleet, and reaped the benefit in terms of attention and reputation. BA soon backed down. A brand doesn’t need to be always patriotic to be agile and take opportunities when they arise.
…AND WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS?
So why do any of this? It’s a route to 5-Star advertising for many brands, but strong national identification can be an asset at home and abroad. Nationality can work as a distinctive asset – as in the case of VW, whose German-ness dovetails happily with that country’s reputation for technical excellence.
Patriotic sentiment can also build brand Feeling and help a brand if it lands in trouble. In VW’s case, when its emissions scandal hits, we saw declines in Feeling worldwide – but in Germany, the level of emotional identification it enjoyed was still high enough that it remained a 4-Star brand. In our studies, a high proportion of participants felt sorry for a great German brand laid low. While the damage to the brand has been lasting, it remains extremely strong.