On any given day my fellow American marketers generate an appalling amount of noise and it seems to get louder on the days when most workplaces are closed.
I’m all for celebrations and friendly interactions, but it’s troubling how many marketers flood the various communication tools at our disposal with incredibly generic messages on behalf of their firm for various holidays. These hollow messages often fail to add value to consumers and rarely mean anything beyond: “Hey look at our holiday message. We’re closed today. You aren’t working today. Did you see our logo on this image?”
This brings me to what I witnessed recently as professional communicators green-lit various Memorial Day messages. As a reminder, Memorial Day is the U.S. holiday for remembering and honoring military personnel who perished while serving in the United States Armed Forces. Again, the holiday is dedicated to memorializing and saluting those who PERISHED during military service. Commemorating fallen soldiers is not a time to sell your goods and services. It’s insensitive, and in poor taste, to those surviving family members who lost loved ones.
If your firm creates any advertising campaign that utilizes the phrase “Memorial Day Sale” I will ask you to read the previous paragraph. Multiple times. Per day.
Moving on from the most egregious messages of advertising campaigns, I felt compelled to screenshot some of the social media messages I came across during Memorial Day 2019.
The Downright Disrespectful
The first entry that sparked my writing of this piece came from Adweek (pictured below). There is a little bit of truth when people say advertising professionals can sometimes forget there are audiences beyond their ad industry peers. Heck, maybe I’m wrong and $1 to access ad industry news is a decent way of honoring those who perished on the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944.
Maybe there are few better ways to remember the ancestors who lost their lives at the Battle of Gettysburg with up to 60% off a nice wrinkle-free cotton/poly blend button-down. This retailer must know something I don’t.
Moving on from outright salesmanship, I came across some well-meaning posts to commemorate the day.
This post shows a U.S. flag with a quote attributed to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. An iconic American leader for an American holiday, seems to make sense. At a quick glance the use of ‘enemies’ could indicate something related to war and loss. My best guess (aided by a quick online search) shows this quote coming from The Trumpet of Conscience, a series of five lectures from Dr. King. My best guess is that he was probably addressing the role of apathy in the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s. Again, it seems like there are good intentions behind the post but taking things out of context is not a good look.
More well-intentioned posts could be found although they strayed from the true meaning of the holiday.
- It’s not appropriate to wish people a ‘happy’ Memorial Day holiday. It is (should be) a solemn holiday.
- It’s not a day to recognize ALL service members. There are two holidays in the United States recognizing the contributions of military personnel – Veterans Day (November 11) and Armed Forces Day (3rd Saturday of May).
- It’s not a day created to use a hashtag. Please message me if you used #MemorialDay so I can better understand the reason for doing it.
The people who post with good intentions aren’t completely wrong when it comes to sharing a message from their brand. If some aspect of military service is part of a company’s culture, brand philosophy or history there are definitely ways to tastefully issue a holiday message (just keep your logo to a minimum). Honor any friends and family members who lost their life in service, keep their story alive by memorializing them if you’re so inclined to have your company post a message on Memorial Day. And try to make similar connections for any other holiday throughout the year so there is something meaningful behind the message.
Overall the Instagram post by the Arizona Cardinals is respectfully simple and reserved. The missed opportunity to add meaning here was how the team could have paid tribute to Pat Tillman, a U.S. Army Ranger who lost his life during a tour of duty in Afghanistan. Tillman played for the Cardinals from 1998-2001 and chose to leave professional football to serve in the military alongside his brother. There is a pretty remarkable story and it’s definitely worth remembering. Deep down I feel that marketing and communications professionals need to be historians for their company just as much as they need to help increase sales and enhance reputation.
Another missed opportunity is with the team I grew up watching and put nearly 10 years in as a season ticket holder, the Buffalo Bills. You could debate “Thank You Veterans” as being a blanket statement supporting all military service members but I won’t nitpick that angle. Where I see the Bills missing an opportunity is in not continuing to tell the story of Bob Kalsu, a guard for the team in 1968 who left the following year in order to fulfill his ROTC obligation. He lost his life serving in South Vietnam in 1970. The team has recognized Kalsu in the past with induction on the team’s Wall of Fame, video tributes, and a pregame ceremony in 2016. A post dedicated to Kalsu each Memorial Day would be a fitting way to remember and keep his story in front of the fanbase.
Make it Meaningful
At the end of the day, as a marketing professional, I am responsible for making sure the content associated with my brand’s name is serving a purpose. It can be informative. It can be purely entertaining. Above all, the message should always be in context. It should never just be the equivalent of a late night “Hey. You up?” text message.
This piece is focused specifically on Memorial Day, but there are a variety of scenarios throughout each calendar year – both scheduled and unforeseen – where unnecessary content is created. As the world gets noisier, it becomes more difficult for audiences to cut through the clutter and resist the temptation to mute, stop following, or unsubscribe from your communication channels. This is why I implore business owners and marketers to revisit the quote from Jeff Goldblum’s character in Jurassic Park as he questions the revival of dinosaurs in an amusement park:
“…your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”
– Dr. Ian Malcolm having lunch at Jurassic Park
Sure marketing isn’t typically a life-and-death situation, but every time you turn to the keyboard you have the opportunity to create something that can unravel your business.
If you don’t stop and think critically about what each message says about your company, you may forever be known as the company that basically compares Mount Suribachi with a bowl of fresh berries.