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American Flag or Corporate War Logo?
Email: betpower (nospam) yahoo.com
07 Jan 2002
Modified: 08 Jan 2002
Sadly and ironically, the more American flags are waving everywhere, the less we have our true America.
This is a summary of the government's war marketing strategies, tactics, developers, and media distribution channels.
American Flag or Corporate War Logo?
By Bet Power
Sadly and ironically, the more American flags are waving everywhere,
the less we have our true America.
As someone who has worked in advertising and marketing for over two decades, I have felt compelled since 9-11 to observe and analyze how the U.S. government through Big Media is using the art of advertising and the science of marketing – in particular, the strategic use of the iconography of the American flag and an accompanying motto – to win and sustain support from the American people for its long and continuing, global “War on Terrorism.”
What are we to make of the phenomenon of American flags that are flying everywhere – on cars, attached to SUVs or pasted to the sides of minivans, on homes, highways, storefronts, mailboxes, light posts, t-shirts, key rings, billboards, buildings, in music videos, in movie trailers, ads, and even on “patriotic fashions” and red-white-and-blue outdoor lights instead of traditional Christmas decorations? Results of a September 15 Gallup survey showed 82% of U.S. citizens polled said they had flown or would fly the American flag in response to the 9-11 attacks (see “Marketers Rally Around the Flag – Patriotic Messages Abound, but Many Fear Jingoism” at:
What started as a genuine expression of shock, grief, fear, empathy and solidarity with those who lost their lives on 9-11 has turned into, not so much a wave of heartfelt patriotism, as into a massive cheerleading display for an immoral, unjust war. Is this the sort of hypocritical, emotional religiosity of flag-waving that masks an ugly, killer lust for revenge on the “enemy” as described by Mark Twain in his masterful
“War Prayer” (you can read it at:
http://quanta-gaia.org/MarkTwain/warPrayer.html) or is this something even more nefarious – since marketing has come a very long way since Twain’s time 100 years ago?
Selling the “War on Terrorism” to the American public
And selling out America at the same time
Could that “something” be the strategic selling to Americans of the “rightness” of killing innocent human beings for corporate profitability? The product we are being sold is the “War on Terrorism” – a very expensive product, and a highly profitable one.
What’s more, along the way to great corporate profitability from war, could vengeful, gullible, self-indulgent Americans-in-denial be colluding with a far-right Administration to destroy the very soul of American democracy and freedom itself? Is all this being furthered by cynical marketers beholden to, or employed by, the Bush Administration? We are told this is “America’s New War,” yet how can it be “new” when the same old human carnage results, as in every other war? The reason it is “new” is that this is a lawless war which breaks all the rules – undeclared, lacking a focus against one specific country, waged against a concept instead of against a nation state, lacking the limits of a timetable or endpoint (see Gore Vidal’s comments on waging “a Perpetual War” at:
http://www.commondreams.org/headlines01/1124-04.htm ) and conducted outside the international laws against war crimes set down in the Geneva Convention. Bush and Ashcroft have consistently communicated they are above the law, whether those be the laws of our land expressed in the U.S. Constitution or the laws of international bodies, such as the United Nations.
If 80+% of Americans look the other way, support the war, back whatever Bush does – including rescind our civil liberties and Constitutional protections, don’t want to know the truth, and believe everything Big Media brainwashing tells them, does the universal law of “what goes around comes around” mean that we get back what we dish out – thus, in return for global bullying, soon the “land of the free and the home of the brave” will be just a romantic memory?
It’s in our own best interests as citizens of the U.S. to uncover the ways the Bush Administration is hurting each one of us psychologically, emotionally, financially, and legally at this time, as well as how it is causing immense suffering and death for hundreds of thousands of Afghani and Iraqi families, in its lust for worldwide economic dominance.
How is this a corporate war?
The Bush/Bin Laden families and Cheney personally profit as directors and investors in the war construction-related company Carlyle Group. Bush and Cheney benefit politically as well (as evident in public approval ratings since 9-11). U.S. military and energy companies make tons of money through control of oil and gas reserves under the Caspian Sea, as well as through production of fighter planes and weapons of destruction. The best delivery transport of the coveted energy reserves is through pipelines to be built across Afghanistan, only possible after U.S.-conquest of the country and dominance of the region is achieved. (If you have any doubt that this is a war for oil, check out the huge and numerous American flags flying at your local Mobil, Exxon, or CITGO station.) Also come huge profits from rebuilding the same area the U.S. has bombed to smithereens. Much has been written about the profit motivation of Carlyle Group for this war, and a great summary by Steve Grey, “Bush and Cheney Were Involved!” can be found at: http://www.indymedia.org/print.php3?article_id=110641 .
If we can believe the polls showing that most Americans support Bush and his “War on Terrorism,” then it seems the marketing campaign to sell Americans on this never-ending war is working. My interest, as a marketer of conscience, is in figuring out how and why.
The marketing arm of the U.S. government
The Nation, in its January 7/14, 2002 issue, profiles the “Big Ten” media and entertainment giants – its Big Ten Media Chart is accessible at: http://www.thenation.com . These ten conglomerates dominate the media worldwide and have increasingly blurred the line between news and entertainment to near-invisibility. Through dumbed-down journalism reeking with bias and blatant in its omissions, filled with the marketing of patriotism and outright lies in service to the corporate-military U.S. government, it is Big Media that controls everything we see, think, and feel through its tentacles of sub-corporations. It is Big Media – delivering most of the “entertainment” and “news” we get – that has become nothing more than the marketing arm of the U.S. government. It is Big Media, since 9-11, which has been aggressively transforming the original meaning of the American flag (emblem of the unity of the states in democracy, freedom, justice, equality, and rights for all) into crass corporate branding for the “War on Terrorism.” The Big Ten Media include:
AT&T Corporation (television; movies; radio; music; local, long-distance, and cell phones, the WB, HBO, Cinemax, Court TV, Comedy Central, E!, Warner Brothers, Quincy Jones Entertainment Co., etc.). Revenues: $66 billion
AOL/Time Warner (magazines, movies, music, books, television, internet, sports, theme parks, Sportsline radio, Time, Life, People, Mad, DC Comics, Atlantic, Elektra, Columbia House, Warner Brothers, Time-Life Books, Book-of-the-Month, AOL, CompuServe, Netscape, Atlanta Braves & Hawks, etc.). Revenues: $36.2 billion
Liberty Media Corporation (magazines, movies, sports, music, internet, radio, television, telephony, The Nature Company stores, Discovery Channel stores, Primedia, USA Films, Gramercy Pictures, Denver Nuggets, Colorado Avalanche, Ticketmaster, Citysearch, Sprint, Motorola, etc.). Revenues: $42 billion
Viacom, Inc. (movies; books; internet; radio; television; magazines; theme parks; live entertainment venues; musical rights; exclusive advertising rights on buses, subways, trains, kiosks, billboards in NYC, Chicago, LA, SF, Philly, Detroit, Houston, Atlanta and 82 other U.S. cities as well as cities in other countries; BET Design Studio, the U.S. Postal Service is one of its clients, Paramount Pictures, Nickelodeon, MTV Films, Blockbuster, Simon & Schuster, Scribner, Pocket Books, The Free Press, MTVi, MTV.com and VH1.com, MarketWatch.com, CBS Radio Network, CBS, UPN, MTV, MTV2, VH1, Showtime, BET, etc.). Revenues: $20 billion
Walt Disney Company (magazines, movies, resorts/themed entertainment, books, television, sports, movies, radio, theatrical productions, stakes in NFL.com and Movies.com, Disney World, Disneyland, Disney Channel, ESPN Classic, Buena Vista, Touchstone, ABC News, Miramax, ESPN Radio, etc.). Revenues: $25.4 billion
SONY (television, music, movies, internet, broadcast and electronic equipment and games, PlayStation, insurance and credit financing, Telemundo, Columbia Pictures, Sony Pictures Classics, Loews Theatres, etc.). Revenues: $53.8 billion
Bertelsmann (television, internet, books, music, newspapers, magazines, radio, greeting cards, trading cards, Europe’s biggest TV broadcaster and film producer, Lycos.com in Europe, The Travel Channel, largest U.S. book publisher, Random House, Knopf, Vintage, Bantam Doubleday Dell, Arista and Windham Records, etc.). Revenues: $16.5 billion
Vivendi Universal (books, magazines, internet, theme parks, television, movies, music, newspapers, cell-phone services in France and leading book publisher in France, bottled water, landfill sites, water and waste-water treatment for municipalities, owns 220 advertising agencies in 65 countries, iWon.com, Universal Studios Hollywood, SEGA GameWorks, USA Network, Sci-Fi Channel, Sundance Channel, Propaganda Films, etc.). Revenues: $37.2 billion
General Electric (internet, sports/live venues, television, aircraft engines, home appliances, cars, computers, x-ray and ultrasound machines, MR and CT scanners, retail and financial services, healthcare services and insurance, Polo.com, Radio City Music Hall, NBC, CNBC, MSNBC, A&E, AMC, Bravo, etc.). Revenues: $129.9 billion
News Corporation – Murdoch family (television, books, newspapers, movies, sports, music, TV Guide, Weekly Standard, the Simpsons, X-Files and other Fox properties, National Geographic Channel, Twentieth Century Fox, HarperCollins, NY Post, New York Knicks, New York Rangers, Los Angeles Dodgers, etc.). Revenues: $11.6 billion
Bush makes most powerful woman in advertising part of the State Department
To craft its messages, create its war branding, and move its communications through the many distribution channels of Big Media here in the States and strategically in the Middle East – presently, in Afghanistan and Pakistan – Bush put Charlotte Beers in charge of the “War on Terrorism” propaganda effort. He appointed her to this position in March 2001 (N.B.: well before the “surprise” 9-11 attacks) and charged her with developing marketing communications for the “new” war immediately after 9-11. Beers, CEO of Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, was appointed Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. Because of her Madison Avenue salesmanship on behalf of domestic products like Head & Shoulders, and not for any expertise in policy or politics, Beers was chosen to craft the messages that will help the U.S. win its “War on Terrorism” (see “Charlotte Beers and the Selling of America” at: http://www.adage.com/news.cms?newsId=33340 ).
Beers has said she needs to “redefine who America is” to Muslims around the world, and to “communicate what is the value of our system.” She told Advertising Age magazine, “What are our beliefs? What do the words freedom and tolerance mean? We have people who are not our friends define America in negative terms. It is time for us to re-ignite the understanding of America.” (See “An Advertising Call to Arms” at:
http://www.adage.com/news.cms?newsId=33210 ). In other words, a wealthy advertising mogul is going to tell us all – including the people we are pummeling to death – what is the true meaning of America and what are the true beliefs of Americans like you and me. Among the themes Beers has communicated to Afghanis via broadcasts from a special radio-studio plane and airdropped leaflets is that the U.S. is not in Afghanistan to harm innocent people (see: “Turning Over a New Leaflet” at: http://slate.msn.com/?id=2058800 ). No wonder she has come under instant fire from the press, including the ad industry trade press. Talk about false advertising! The criticism from industry analysts continues (see “U.S. Government Takes Liberties with Facts” at: http://www.boston.com/dailynews/004/wash/U_S_government_takes_liberties:.shtml ) since Beers keeps creating tabloid-worthy leaflets using manipulated photos of Bin Laden and false quotes from suspected terrorists. Although Beers is the head honcho of manipulating perceptions of the U.S. and its “War on Terrorism” abroad, she is not the only ad exec, nor is hers the only agency, involved in war propaganda profiteering.
On September 17, 2001, just a few short days after the 9-11 attacks, President and CEO of the American Association of Advertising Agencies (AAAA) O. Burtch Drake faxed a letter to all AAAA members along with a copy of his “Viewpoint” letter to the editor that appeared in Advertising Age on September 17, 2001 (a search on the Nexis service at:
should yield the entire issue and you can find the letter within). A pacifist friend of mine who owns her own ad agency in New England was disturbed and concerned to receive this fax on 9-17 from Drake. In it, he requested her agency, as a member of AAAA, to assist in the war effort by volunteering through the Advertising Council – the ad industry’s pro bono arm – to create “relevant messages to be made available to the media” and to “produce PSAs (public service announcements) on behalf of a non-profit or government agency.” She correctly read this as a request for her to volunteer her staff to help create war advertising, since Drake’s letter mentioned Pearl Harbor and how advertising, marketing, and media industries had joined together back then to form the War Advertising Council, the precursor of today’s Ad Council. O. Burtch Drake can be reached at AAAA, 405 Lexington Avenue, New York, NY 10174-1801, (212) 682-2500. Although his cover letter is not online, you may be able to get a copy from Ad Council’s Peggy Conlon at (212) 984-1987 or at pconlon (at) adcouncil.org .
Then, in mid-November, the Ad Council issued an appeal for people in the ad biz to give money, with an aim of raising $3 million to fund the Council’s Campaign for Freedom, a marketing push to “help restore Americans’ confidence and spirit during the country’s war on terrorism.” (See “Ad Council Wants Personal Donations – Plans to Hit on Marketing Professionals for War Effort Cash” at:
In addition to employing the services of advertising professionals, the Bush Administration undertook some severe media management through public relations and movie industry pros, as well. The steps taken included: keep critics of the war off the air completely, bring the press on board including through self-censorship, strategize with media moguls in movie studios, and try to harness foreign as well as domestic media. For analysis of the Bush PR offensive, see “Warning: Media Management Now in Effect” at:
http://www.commondreams.org/views01/1115-10.htm . Among the PR firms engaged by the Administration in October was Rendon Group, with offices in Boston and Washington, which got a $400,000/4-month deal (with an option to continue work in ’02) from the Pentagon to help make the U.S. look good while bombing Afghanis (see “War Needs Good Public Relations,” by Norman Solomon, at:
Who’s a true patriot, who is not?
I think it is important for Americans to have the information necessary to resist media manipulation of our national emblem and the positive values therein; in effect, to be able to determine when Old Glory is being displayed appropriately versus when its deep spiritual and national meanings are desecrated commercially to boost an advertiser’s profits or to morph into war propaganda for huge corporate profit. Rather than being unpatriotic, I think of myself as an authentic American patriot, as Mark Twain was, when I question the underlying motivation for the current flag-waving and when I show concern about widespread flag-desecration through commercialism.
Indeed, abuse of the flag as a material object or as an icon is what is actually anti-American. But for Big Media to do so is a necessary step if they are to help the government twist the values of U.S. citizens into a cynical, anti-humanism that supports genocidal killing on a massive scale for no other conceivable reason than dominance of lucrative Middle East oil and gas reserves beneath the Caspian Sea.
The National Flag Code, U.S. Code Title 4 addresses the proper and improper display and uses of the flag (especially see Chapter 1, Sections 3 and 176 and the complete code at: http://www.steve4u.com/flagcode.htm . See also an article from ABC-TV minimizing the whole improper-use-and-display issue, at: http://abclocal.go.com/wpvi/news/92101_nw_flag.html ). Violations of the code are subject to fine as misdemeanors and although the federal government does not impose penalties, the states may.
For example, included in the code are regulations that address destroying the flag, using it for advertising purposes, using it as a receptacle, fastening it or displaying it in a way in which it gets wet or can be easily torn or damaged – all simply not to be allowed (when necessary, disposal is allowed by burning). Yet millions of Americans in mid-September discarded with their trash the printed flag inserted like an advertising supplement in major daily newspapers across the country, not to mention all those raggedy flags flapping on cars and trucks. And don’t get me started on all those advertisers pushing the flag on suddenly trendy “patriotic fashions.”
Tens of thousands of people filled shopping bags printed to look like American flags in the last months of 2001 – clearly forbidden in Section 3 of the Flag Code: not to be used as “a receptacle for merchandise or article or thing for carrying or transporting merchandise …”. This is perhaps the most telling and summary image of our time – the American flag with shopping-bag handles, morphed into a bag to carry products bought in a “patriotic” frenzy of consumption. Big Media ran that one up the flagpole this holiday season in order to raise flaccid corporate profits – and they saw many Americans salute, lemming-like. For a look at the American flag shopping bag used on 15,000 posters distributed by San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown in October 2001, go to: http://www.adbusters.org/magazine/39/scrapbook/7.html . For an article about December’s holiday shopping as economic patriotism or moral duty, see “Shop Til Bin Laden Drops” at: http://www.commondreams.org/headlines01/1223-02.htm .
Now that I’ve noted the Big Ten Media distribution channels and some of the developers of this corporate war branding campaign, what follows is a summary of what I’ve deduced about the specific marketing tactics of this “War on Terrorism,” along with my professional opinion about strategies employed by the government and its marketing/advertising agencies communicating to us through Big Media. I’ll also give you my opinion about the level of success of this marketing campaign so far. Included are links to additional information to enlighten you, and to support and further this analysis. I hope this will be a jumping-off point for further scrutiny and exposure of post-9-11 government/corporate/military marketing tactics; that this torch will be taken up fearlessly by advertising industry trade-publication writers and commentators. Now more than ever, what is needed in the U.S. is rigorous self-examination resulting in responsible action that will move our society and the world forward towards balance, peace, and healthy global citizenship.
Strong corporate identity and product brand: logo and tagline
A comparison of the U.S. flag and McDonald’s golden arches as global branding mechanisms – their logos and taglines – is an interesting and fruitful undertaking. After all, these are the two major visual icons that currently dominate our entire visual landscape in the States. Through aggressive positioning by the media – in the natural outdoor environment and in public spaces (communications to the collective nation through signage on the streets, billboards on the highways, at the movies, at stadium sporting events, at concerts, at outdoor festivals) as well as inside our private homes (communications to individuals through television, radio, music, videos, newspapers, magazines, catalogs, direct mail, and the Internet) – the flag and the golden arches are now the two icons we see the most often, on any given day. Increasingly, the U.S. flag and the golden arches are also becoming dominant visual symbols in other countries as well, especially in newer democracies and other allies of the West.
Why develop a brand? Simply put, having a strong brand is great for business. Brand strategy and brand management are central to the success of any business plan. A brand offers a promise or guarantee to consumers of value or of positive results when consumers spend their money. This promise is worth money to the originator/owner of the brand – big time! A branded product commands a higher price. Wall Street knows this and it values brands. After all, monopoly power is built because of strong branding.
Brand loyalty is the most beautiful thing to corporations of all – the Holy Grail! It means consumers are hooked for many years, even life, on a product, service, technology, or experience; and they keep buying it. In the U.S., people consume brand relationships several times every day. In these relationships, there is trust won from the consumer who comes to believe both tangible and emotional rewards will be provided because of their loyalty to a brand. Keeping consumers repeatedly buying a branded product, service, or experience really pays off for the originator/owner of the brand.
The purpose of a brand identity is to establish a corporation as the dominant reaper of profits in all markets through the sale of first, its message and then, its products, services, technologies, or life experiences. If we understand that the United States is a corporate-military complex with an Administration and ruling government seeking extraordinary profits both for the entire complex itself and personally for the individuals situated in high leadership roles (be they government, military, or corporate), then we come to know why a “War on Terrorism” that has slaughtered thousands of innocent Afghanis instead of bringing the perpetrators of the 9-11 attacks to justice is, in reality, a corporate war for monopoly power and not a just or even a logical war (if any war could honestly be such). A corporate war, by definition, is a war for obtaining massive profits. Especially because it is unsavory and destructive, it needs to have a strong brand identity behind it in order to be bought by consumers. Building this brand identity takes persistence, repetition, and consistency on the part of the originator of the brand.
Do you doubt that you are a “consumer” of the “War on Terrorism”? Think again, then, for it is your tax money you are personally spending to pay for this war. Increasingly, younger generations in the U.S. have been socialized to be boundless consumers. To spend and to develop brand loyalty is to feel good and to think of oneself as secure, successful, and cool. The very generations (high-school and college-age) who have been on the forefront of anti-war movements to oppose U.S. foreign policy in the past are the central target market for corporate war branding today. In addition, the lucrative market of age 15-34 males is heavily targeted. Don’t you think the government needs your buy-in to this war? You are its client, its customer and consumer. The underlying message to you through all of Big Media is this: “The War on Terrorism: Buy It!”
If that’s the case, then according to successful marketing principles, you’d better be provided with a pretty strong promise in return from the brand. What’s the promise of this branded “War on Terrorism”? Probably several: that you will no longer have to be afraid after a horrific attack that killed thousands of Americans, that you will be safe, that you will continue to prosper, and – most persuasively, I think, of all – that you will remain in the mainstream, in the majority opinion, popular with others on the “winning side.” United We Stand. Who wants to be a minority, an outsider with a contrarian opinion, in a scary time like this?
Instead, you get the promise of a fatherly government to take care of you, to protect you from perceived external threats and also, from itself. If you are for the “War on Terrorism,” the government will not detain, investigate, or punish you – and, to guarantee against your deepest fear – you, your family members, and friends won’t be killed. “Trust us,” this critical brand relationship demands, “Trust us with your way of life and with your life itself.”
Now for tactics. There are two parts to any brand identity: a logo and a tagline.
A logo is: a visual symbol, image, design element, or icon that identifies and represents a business venture or corporation.
A tagline is: a copy line, either a sentence or a phrase, communicating the brand essence of a business venture or corporation. It is a brief positioning statement for the business venture and it accompanies the logo (usually printed below the logo) in an advertisement or on other marketing communications.
Eventually, after repeated display of both the logo and tagline together, the logo is able to stand alone without the tagline, and still communicate the intended, underlying message. For example, if you see the GE logo on its own, you will certainly remember “We Bring Good Things to Life.” Or, if you see the Pepsi name and logo design, you will recall “The Pepsi Generation,” even if the copy line does not appear.
Similarly, it is the goal of the “War on Terrorism” marketing campaign to have “United We Stand (In Our Support For the War)” register in your mind whenever you see the image of the American flag. Especially effective is the unwitting display of the flag by individuals everywhere and its accompanying patriotic emotionalism – how’s that for viral marketing? “America the Beautiful – Pass it On,” a patriotic movie trailer/60-second advertisement commanded me in the Cinemark on three recent trips to the movies, while emotional images of Americans and the flag (to a soundtrack of “America the Beautiful”) attempted to move the audience to tears before the feature presentation began.
The flag of a people, symbolic of their values of liberty and justice for all, is co-opted and transformed into a logo for U.S. corporations and high-standing government individuals who will profit enormously with the Bush Administration and its global “War on Terrorism.”
Of course, as John Lennon told us in “Imagine,” the absence of nationalism is a pre-requisite for world peace (“Imagine there’s no country, it isn’t hard to do. / Nothing to kill or die for, and no religion too.”). So, the American flag – or any flag – bespeaks a nationalistic war mentality where domination is the endgame – especially in our country where its push for economic and political globalization drives the President of the USA to aspire to one day become President of the Earth. For a revealing press account of the U.S. flag representing an emotion of patriotism versus an emotion of blood-thirsty nationalism and conquest, see the Orlando Sentinel, “Is Flag Fever Patriotism or Darker Stuff?” reposted at: http://www.indymedia.org/print.php3?article_id=100295 .
Just how are the government and its marketing agencies able to achieve the manipulation of the American people to maintain this psychological coup? “Look out kid, they keep it all hid,” sang Bob Dylan in 1965 in “ Subterranean Homesick Blues” – lyrics at:
http://www.bobdylan.com/songs/subterranean.html . That’s why it’s important to expose what is happening.
The “War on Terrorism” brand identity and marketing campaign
The current brand identity for the “War on Terrorism” consists of the following:
The logo (visual symbol or icon): the U.S. flag
- and –
The tagline (copy line): “United We Stand” (alternately, “God Bless America”).
Just as the brand identity for the McDonald’s Corporation fast-food chain consists of:
The logo: Golden Arches
- and –
The tagline: “We Love to See You Smile” (alternately, “Billions and Billions of Hamburgers Sold”).
What the two campaigns have in common is this: false advertising.
Many people know that underlying McDonald’s smiling “Happy Meals” veneer is an international mega-corporation profiting from the inhumane slaughter of millions of cows and chickens, using crude killing methods and devices that injure their workers, as well. The resultant “food,” though fast and cheap, is not nutritional at all; rather, it’s the primary cause of the unhealthy, overweight-malnourished-American syndrome. The rich get richer and the poor get sicker. (See Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal, by Eric Schlosser. You can read the introduction to the book at:
Similarly, beneath the government’s “War on Terrorism” façade lays the likelihood of government collusion in the 9-11 attacks that took the lives of Americans, and the inhumane slaughter of thousands of Afghanis and millions of others in the Middle East. The resultant nationwide “unity” is not patriotism at all; rather it’s the abrogation of civil liberties and collusion with genocide and war crimes by a fearful American people still experiencing post-traumatic-stress syndrome. There’s a ton of money to be made from all this stress and killing.
How did the widespread use of the flag as a war icon – or shorthand expression of support for the war – get started? Did it spring spontaneously from the people, or do advertising executives drive it? First one, then the other? Is the flag phenomenon a populist fad, keeping up with the Joneses (since your neighbor’s flying one), successful viral marketing, a savvy media blitz of mindless propaganda, or a combination of all the above?
I first saw the American Red Cross handing out flags and bumper stickers for cars on 9-12 outside Big Y Supermarkets in my New England town. Simultaneously, Big Y and Stop & Shop Supermarket chains started selling t-shirts, bumper stickers, lapel pins, posters, coffee mugs, stuffed animals, books with patriotic themes, and other items printed with the flag logo and “United We Stand.” Sometimes, a percentage of the profits went to benefit the WTC Twin Towers Fund, sometimes not. Soon after that, major newspapers across the country printed American flag inserts and/or ran pro-war ads in support of the WTC and Pentagon victims, featuring the American flag, with many of them stating “United We Stand.” At the same time, these newspapers told us a lie – that there was virtually no dissent against the war.
Following 9-11, the CVS Pharmacy chain, Wal-Mart, Big Y, Stop & Shop, and other national food, drug, and discount clothing chains put this branding – a poster of the American flag with the copy line “United We Stand” across the bottom – in all of their store windows, making it essentially point-of-purchase (POP) advertising. The week of the 9-11 attacks, Kmart ran ads developed by Omnicom Group’s TBWA/Chiat/Day, New York, featuring the American flag and instructed readers to tear it out and display it. “I thought the flag ad was absolutely perfect,” exclaimed Marina Hahn, executive vice president of entertainment at WPP Group’s J. Walter Thompson Co. “It was in keeping with its brand. It is an all-American place to shop. It appeals to the middle-American mentality.” (See “Marketers Rally Around the Flag” at:
In addition, the departments of revenue of several states printed this brand identity for the war (American flag and “United We Stand”) on the covers of state tax-filing booklets mailed to millions of Americans at the start of January. What’s more, the U.S. Postal Service recently issued a new 34-cent stamp with you guessed it … the American flag and “United We Stand” below it.
These are just a few examples of where the war brand is appearing, but they do indicate the brand is being driven by the government, its marketing and PR agencies, and delivered through the channels of Big Media. For many more examples, see the abundance of article links at “American Advertising Goes to War – Selling Brand USA to a Hostile World” at:
http://www.adage.com/news.cms?newsId=33639 ). You can also check out a review of “patriotic” advertising from opportunists and profiteers of 9-11 (like GMC, Ford, AmEx, Anheuser-Busch), “Mass Murder is No Occasion for Marketing” at:
http://www.adreview.com/article.cms?articleId=861 ). Even if you are not terribly observant, you will begin to notice American flag and “patriotic” branding of some variation – intended as actual advertisements – at points of purchase everywhere, both online and offline. Later, I’ll give you a few of my “favorite” examples.
Copy logic and strategic goal How are we to interpret the copy line “United We Stand”? Certainly, this is not a statement of unity across racial or religious differences, given the racial profiling and prosecution of Arab Americans and Muslims in the U.S. at this time. I think the tagline means this:
“We all stand together and are single-minded in backing Bush and his War on Terrorism.”
Of course, this is a lie, but the strategic goal of the branding is to sell Americans that the majority favors Bush’s actions and supports the war. MSN, through its Slate.com, fleshed out this “fact” for us in Jacob Weisberg’s article of 12/4/01, “Left Behind,” promoted on MSN’s homepage that day as “The Non-Existent Anti-War Movement” (read it at: http://slate.msn.com/?id=2059328 ). In this article, Weisberg declares there is no effective Peace Movement and derides anyone who doesn’t wish to hang the American flag out the window of their home.
Control of sports The President’s announcement of the military assault on Afghanistan, signaling the start of the “War on Terrorism,” was broadcast on huge screens at NFL games on October 7 and was met with wild applause from tens of thousands there. Should we be shocked and surprised at using this venue for this announcement, given the investment in sports events and stadiums of Big Media? Not if we connect the dots back to Big Media and realize it acted as one together with the government, reaching their primary target audience at the football games – multiple generations of primarily males in a competitive frame of mind for victory for their side.
Control of concerts and public gatherings Other target markets – say women of all ages – would be better reached with emotional, patriotic, pro-war messages at concerts like the Benefit Concert for New York City, or Bette Midler singing the “Star-Spangled Banner” at NYC mayor Bloomberg’s inauguration. It becomes easier to understand how the government is working through its advertising, marketing, and public relations agencies when one examines the type of media channel used, the message delivered, and the type of target audience to whom it is communicated.
Control of music Shortly after 9-11, radio stations across the world agreed to ban a long list of popular songs from air play, including John Lennon’s anti-war hymn, “Imagine.” “Peace Train” by Cat Stevens was also suppressed. Marvin Gaye’s plea for social change, “What’s Goin’ On?” was quickly remade into a watered-down “all-star cover” and is being aired repeatedly on MTV and VH1. The remake took the power of protest out of the lyrics and, in particular, played down the lines, “Father, father, we don’t need to escalate. War is not the answer, for only love can conquer hate.” Do you think it was just a coincidence that this lyric – which originally questioned U.S. aggression during the Vietnam War – was gutted at the very time a new Peace Movement through International ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism; see: http://www.internationalanswer.org ) rose up with mass anti-war protests in the U.S. following 9-11? ANSWER had first dibs on turning “War is not the answer” into a tagline of its own for use on protest posters, flyers, website, and in mass chants. In my opinion, the subsequent “all-star remake” of Gaye’s “What’s Goin’ On?” succeeds as a brand diluting a competitor brand – the corporate war brand dilutes I-ANSWER’s. And this is working in the government’s favor – whether or not the “all-star” artists realize it.
Again, should we be surprised, given Big Media’s business relationship with a war-profiteering Administration and corporate-military complex? Instead of songs with powerful lyrics for social change like Lennon, Gaye or Dylan’s, today we’re fed a steady diet of player or pimpified “Dirty Pop.” Consider Mary J. Blige’s “Family Affair” (from the “No More Drama” CD) with its catchy hook offering a remedy for these times: “Let’s get drunk.” The video for the cut “No More Drama” shows TV screens branded with the words “War on Terrorism” while the singer suffers emotionally, watching war news.
Control of movies Hollywood agreed to help the government by lending technical know-how to create images for our consumption in war-themed movies and videos shown on TV and at the cinema. Espionage, CIA and FBI, terrorist, and World War II (“the good war”) themes became more numerous in movies recently in production. Tom Hanks gets more successful every day – consider his “Band of Brothers.” So do Lockheed Martin and other defense contractors. To keep the public from going soft on the war over time, Hollywood studios will open an unprecedented number of films this year that keep the American public on the side of the “War on Terrorism.” How do I know? Actor Sally Field and other Hollywood representatives said so, in a televised celebrity interview following the 9-11 attacks.
Control of television All programming is now issued through a pro-war censorship filter. All networks have redesigned their logos, incorporating the American flag or red-white-and-blue colors. All channels refuse to cover the Peace Movement and its frequent and often massive anti-war demonstrations. All channel anchorpersons and talk-show hosts wear American flag lapel pins. MTV and VH1 hosts wear “patriotic fashions.” Old espionage and war movies are dusted off and shown to an already-rattled public at every opportunity, especially late in the evenings, before it’s time for bed.
Corporate war branding examples –
Connect the dots back to Big Media
In addition to ones I’ve already mentioned, here are examples of patriotic and predatory profiteering, all offered by Big Media sub-corporations or companies who must use Big Media to deliver their advertising. Add your own to the list!
- Ralph Lauren ( http://www.polo.com ) sells sweaters with a modified American flag across the chest. In the blue field, instead of stars, “RL” appears. He also sells sheets in red, white, and blue.
- Bloomingdale’s sells a $100 Lycra/cotton t-shirt with a sequined American flag. It also opens a FDNY “fire zone boutique” selling items bearing the New York fire department’s insignia.
- Tommy Hilfiger (http://www.tommy.com) sells American flag neckties, sweaters, bangles, and a “Freedom” fragrance in American-flag bottles.
- Tommy Hilfiger’s ad agency Deutsch, New York, creates a 60-second TV spot with the tagline “The American flag. Your license to dream” and a voiceover from Tommy Hilfiger himself. It runs frequently on VH1.
- Liz Claiborne (http://www.lizclaiborne.com ) sells rhinestone American-flag pins.
- Lenox (http://www.lenox.com ) sells “Flag for Freedom” mugs.
- Christopher Radko (http://www.radko.com ) sells “Brave Heart,” a heart-shaped, American-flag Christmas tree ornament.
- North Beach sells a pricey leather flag jacket with Old Glory huge on the back, and only 10% of the proceeds go to the Twin Towers fund.
- Stetson (http://www.stetsoncologne.com ) sells “American Original” perfume for women. Its TV spot features visuals of cowgirls and cowboys telling us, “You have the right to be free. You have the right to laugh.”
- Woolrich (http://www.woolrich.com ) adds an American-flag logo on the breast pocket of its new line of outdoor wear (jackets and vests) for men.
- Jeep (http://www.jeep.com ) names its new model “Liberty” and runs a TV spot showing its vehicle driving up the side of the Statue of Liberty while the popular post-9-11 song “Hero” plays in the background.
- American flags are gratuitously inserted into the backgrounds of many MTV videos, much like product placements in movies.
- Peter Max, poster artist from the ‘60s, designs for Rudy Giuliani a poster with the American flag and “United We Stand,” and sells it on his website (http://www.petermax.com ).
- Shreve, Crump & Low, a tony Boylston Street, Boston gift shop, sells an American flag Waterford crystal paperweight.
- Cataloger Harriet Carter (http://www.harrietcarter.com ) direct mails its December gifts catalog, featuring over 20 American-flag-branded items for use in or outside the home (including those blasted outdoor light displays).
- Frederick’s of Hollywood (http://www.fredericks.com ) sells a patriotic thong decorated with flags and the words “America the Beautiful.”
- General Motors (http://www.gmc.com ) offers interest-free car loans in their flag-drenched TV spots urging, “Keep America Rolling.”
- American Express (http://www.americanexpress.com ) declares its travelers’ checks “Indestructible” in patriotic TV commercials.
- A Disney illustrator creates a 12-story billboard of a military chick in full combat gear, cocking a massive assault rifle while she stands in front of the burning WTC. The billboard is placed high on the side of the Westwood Medical Center in LA. It says “Liberty and Justice: 9-11” and features the flag and a militaristic eagle. (See: http://la.indymedia.org/display.php3?article_id=12976
And also: http://www.newtimesla.com/issues/2001-10-25/finger.html/1/index.html -- see “ACLU Attacks Westwood”).
- Billboards of American flags, “United We Stand,” or black-background-white-text messages of patriotism – many with discreetly placed corporate logos – assault our sight on every highway across the U.S.
- SONY PlayStation 2 (http://www.us.playstation.com ) releases several “fight terrorism” games including “Nuclear Attack” (where you can track terrorists to Asia and the Middle East) and best-seller “Metal Gear Solid 2, Sons of Liberty.”
- Beretta (http://www.beretta.com ) sells a “United We Stand” pistol and says some of the proceeds will go to the NYPD and victims of 9-11.
- Another gun manufacturer, Tromix (http://www.tromix.com ), releases a 50-caliber rifle nicknamed the “Turban Chaser.” The announcement on the company’s website is accompanied by an American flag design.
- SONY mixes militaristic patriotism with consumer hardware to market its portable DVD player (priced from $999 to $1,499) on 60-second TV spots. A coalition of marketers, media companies, and the U.S. government launch the ad campaign, called “Message from America.” The ads are backed by a 15-member group including Circuit City Stores, SONY Corp. of America’s SONY Electronics, Viacom’s CBS, and the U.S. Department of Defense. The ad airs on CBS and other Viacom properties, including MTV, BET, and UPN. (See: “SONY Products Take Center Stage in Coalition War Ad” at: http://www.adage.com/news.cms?newsId=33472 ).
What is to be done?
Understanding the marketing strategies and tactics being used by the government and Big Media, what can the Peace Movement do to spread its message and gain ground to stop the “War on Terrorism”? First of all, thank heaven for the Internet, a tool that came at exactly the right time. Its reach far surpasses that of protest demonstrations and in-person teach-ins. Using the ‘Net, grassroots organizers are better equipped in this new millennium to oppose multi-billion-dollar Big Media and its massive propaganda – something we could not say in the 1960s.
I suggest we continue to use the Internet to the max for education and organizing – in addition to offline demos, teach-ins, and all possible ways to infiltrate Big Media. Websites, alternative journalism sites, direct emails, organized email letter-writing campaigns and petitions, posted photos taken at protests, video streams, webcasts, online teach-ins: these and more can be the Peace Movement’s distribution channels.
Now, the remaining question is one of tactics and messaging powerful enough to stop the war. Perhaps we need to accept that Americans are consumers above all and reach them as such, using strong competitive messaging and branding of our own. Maybe slogans need to be delivered with a “true patriot” theme. “We the People Don’t Want this War,” “Patriots for Peace,” “Americans for Democracy,” “Life, Liberty, and Justice,” “ANSWER: Act Now to Stop War and End Racism,” “War is Not the Answer,” and “Imagine Prosperity and Peace,” are copy lines that come to mind. As for logos? Nothing’s more powerful and resonant of former victories against immoral U.S. wars in the past than the symbol for Peace.
If this is the century of new globalism, then why not expand our vision across the world? Imagine flags waving everywhere, printed with a photo of planet Earth and the tagline “United We Stand for Peace.”
Better yet, a cosmic Peter Max poster anyone? Earth is spinning in outer space with all the other planets …“United We Live for Peace.” Now, that’s a beautiful brand. I’ll buy that.
© Copyright January 2002, Bet Power. Everyone may copy and distribute this article or parts of it verbatim, but changing it is not allowed. For more information, send an email to: betpower (at) yahoo.com .
by PsychoBob (pacifist, anarchist)
(No verified email address)
08 Jan 2002
i completely agree, and i think you did a very good job describing this topic. advertising is very powerful in today's media, in today's society. icons, phrases, slogans, titles, jokes: in one way or another they always find their way inside your head, into your memory. like a trojan horse. sometimes without any knowledge that it happened. we are all victims of advertising. look to your left, your right. look right in front of you. look at the clothes you're wearing. brand names, icons, slogans. the american flag is no different: an icon. even myself, strongly opposed to advertisement, i can feel its strength. when i see the american flag or the colors, red white and blue, for a split second i feel a sense of pride and security. i then bombard my own thoughts with my true beliefs, with facts about american history that challenge the idea of american pride, in hopes that someday when the american flag enters my visual cortex, the synapses will fire with what i believe, not what they want me to believe.