America is a brand.
And if you are an American, you are an affiliate or brand ambassador.
Theoretically, we’re paid in “freedom” and the benefits of living in this country. But are we being paid in full?
As both consumers and ambassadors, the questions to ask ourselves are:
“What is the value proposition? Does America deliver on its brand promise of freedom and justice for all? Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? What are the benefits of my brand loyalty? And what are the costs of buying in?”
In this episode of Marketing Muckraking, I’m exploring America the brand and the history of patriotic advertising, both for the country and its companies.
Did you know that the Pledge of Allegiance was originally written by a Christian socialist copywriter for The Youth’s Companion newspaper in 1892 as a way to sell more newspapers? Readers who sold the most newspapers were awarded a free flag!
The Pledge of Allegiance was advertising, first and foremost.
Join me as we examine America the Brand through:
- Copywriting – there’s no brand with more consistent language around “freedom” and “happiness” than America
- Pain Points — the American brand appeals to our sense of scarcity and our fear of what would happen to us if we lived anywhere else.
- Opt-Ins — when we vote, we opt in to a sense of political efficacy that keeps us invested in what we’ll get in return. Do our politicians deliver?
- Accept No Substitutes — as schoolchildren, we’re taught that the USA is the greatest country on Earth and everything else falls short. Is it true?
- Brand Loyalty — branding is meant to justify a higher price because of our emotional connections. What price do we pay for loyalty to Brand America? Is it worth the extra cost?
Branding, at the end of the day, is the engineering of a reputation.
America The Brand has sold us on a reputation of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
If any other brand sold us this message and failed to deliver, we would stop buying. So why do we keep buying into this one?
Join me as we explore the history of selling America and using America to sell:
- Colonial Advertising – America the Brand was sold to immigrants in order to populate the nation before it was even formally a country. Its free market was one of America's selling points, but the nation itself was its first product.
- Post-Industrial Revolution Advertising – After the Industrial Revolution, the message of mass production was that the best way to exercise our freedom was through consumption. The American public was taught to buy constantly through, what Edward Filene called, "The School of Freedom": advertisers emphasizing the patriotic call of duty to "do the shopping."
- WWI and WWII Advertising – War propaganda legitimized advertising as an industry and showed the powers that be that consistent and repetitive campaigns could shape public opinion. Advertisers sold American nationalism alongside star spangled corn biscuits and cigarettes.
- Commodity Activism in Advertising – In response to counterculture, the struggles of marginalized communities to gain civil liberties, and their fight for representation, brands evolved to ads that positioned America as a utopian paradise of unity and diversity, where world peace was as easy as "buying the world a Coke" or purchasing from companies who ran social justice campaigns.
Ask yourself, "Does America deliver on its brand promise?" or does it simply offer layaway plans for freedom, asking us to keep making payments for a product it can't and won't deliver?
See these episode of Marketing Muckraking for more on America the Brand and American advertising history:
- Episode 2. How to Lose Friends & Alienate People
- Episode 5. Is America a Scam? with Jeff Harry
- Episode 12. America, The Land of the Free: Do You Really Buy That?
Sources for this episode include:
- NO LOGO by Naomi Klein
- Satisfaction Guaranteed: The Making of the American Mass Market by Susan Strasser
- Accept No Substitutes! The History of American Advertising by Christina Mierau
- The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads by Tim Wu
- Buy National Campaigns: Patriotic Shopping and the Capitalist Nation State by Oliver Kühschelm
- Patriotism as a Lifestyle Brand by John E. Armenta
- The Perils of Patriotic PR and Marketing by Richard Etchison
- Advertising The War: How Business Bought In
About the Marketing Muckraking podcast
Welcome to Marketing Muckraking, the show that asks not simply what brand culture can do for us, but what it’s doing to us — with your host, creative director, brand strategist gone wild, and the court jester of online business, Rachael Kay Albers — making fun of business and making business fun.
This is the show for rebels, revolutionaries, and renegades who run businesses that burn the rulebook. If you’re sick of business podcasts with all the answers — I’ve got nothing but questions.
Where we swap B School for FREE SCHOOL, easy for honest, and goal digging for marketing in pursuit of meaning.
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