Memorial Day: More Than BBQ and Branding

Memorial Day weekend has come to an end. Over the last three days, you likely gathered at a cookout or enjoyed the pool to mark the start of summer. Since it falls at the end of May, Memorial Day gets mistaken for the start of summer. Unfortunately, Memorial Day often doesn’t get the justice it deserves. When it comes to how consumers are celebrating the holiday, an advertising-industry survey found that 54 percent plan to have a barbecue or party, while only 28 percent expect to attend a parade and 14 percent to visit a military cemetery. Even among those who have served in the armed service, that number is still only 24 percent.

Memorial Day 2

If you happened to check your email or social networks this weekend, you might have seen nods to the holiday – photos of BBQs posted by friends, sale prices by your favorite brands and sentiment for our fallen troops and the freedom we have as Americans. Some brands take it upon themselves to capitalize on this opportunity and translate their support for American troops, many tipping their hat to the men and women who have served the country. And, just as Americans hold positive views of the armed services, they’re willing to get behind brands that support military troops and veterans. In fact, nearly half of respondents (47 percent) support brands that support veterans.


In addition to Memorial Day, other national holidays like Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and Veterans Day have become an occasion for companies to promote their brands. While there is nothing wrong with a brand acknowledging American troops, even if they don’t have affiliation with the armed forces, brands must be careful. Here are some examples of how brands can experience hits and misses over troop supported holidays.

How brands can translate support for troops on Memorial Day

Military service is still very much part of the American experience. Most are aware of the sacrifice that men and women of the armed services make, and brands seeking to show their support must do so in an authentic way – not in hopes of a marketing payoff. In the past, brands that earned the highest marks for supporting veterans have included Wal-Mart, USAA and Home Depot, followed by Target, Nike, Sears, USO, Ford, Applebee’s, Salvation Army, Disney, General Motors and Coke.

If your brand is considering showing its support over the holiday, make sure the action is relevant, that it makes sense for your brand, and that you’re doing something to inspire a positive response. Before making Memorial Day or any armed service holiday apart of your marketing plan, ask yourself these questions. If they are not easy to answer, considering sitting this holiday out.

Why Memorial Day may not make sense for your brand

There’s no easier way to offend armed services and family members of those fallen by losing sight of the true meaning of the holiday. Even though it seems fitting for us all to pay tribute to those who have died for our country, memorializing lost veterans may not always be smart for your brand. Yes, being timely and relevant with your marketing messages helps connect the brand with what’s happening in the world. And, making the most of current events is a good way to participate in those bigger conversations. But, the more solemn the occasion, the more difficult it can be for brands to maintain quality and relevance. It can also be hurtful to your brand if the messaging doesn’t resonate, especially if the brand is perceived as taking advantage of the holiday for their bottom line.

You have to know where to draw the line and decide if it’s best to do anything at all. Ask yourself if tipping your corporate hat to those who have served can be done in a respectful way that inspires consumers to do the same. If the answer is no, then focus on how you might reengage with consumers when they return to work.

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