meaningful brands

Passikoff: Meaningful Brands (Always) Win

As I mentioned in my last column, we released our 23rd annual Most Patriotic Brands list last week, posted to coincide with the 80th anniversary of D-Day 

The term “D-Day” is used by the Armed Forces to refer to the beginning of an operation. The “D” stands for “Day,” meaning it’s actually short for “Day-Day,” which is nowhere near as catchy as “Operation Overlord,” a very cool branding choice and the codename for the launch of the Allied landing force invasion of Nazi-occupied France along the Normandy coast during World War II. BTW, that name was Churchill’s call. It was originally to be called “Roundhammer” taking parts of two previous operations, “Sledgehammer” in 1942 and “Roundup” in 1943. But the Prime Minister (and, as it turned out, a pretty good brand manager) stepped in and changed it to the more formidable “Overlord.” It has become the personification of patriotism.

The assault began on June 6, 1944, with Allied aircraft bombing German defenses. That was followed by 1,200 aircraft carrying airborne troops – the U.S. 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions – who descended by parachute and glider.  As dawn broke, Allied forces started bombing German coastal defenses. Shortly afterwards, an invasion force of 7,000 ships and landing craft manned by over 195,000 naval personnel from eight allied countries began putting troops ashore on five codenamed beaches: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword.

The names of both Omaha and Utah were suggested by General of the Army, Omar Bradley, after the hometowns – Omaha, Nebraska and Provo, Utah – of two privates working in his London headquarters. Juno Beach was named after Wing Commander Michael Dawnay’s wife, Juno. The British and Canadian beaches were given the codenames “Gold” and “Sword” – both types of fish. So, yeah, maybe not the most rigorous branding exercise of all time. And names notwithstanding, more than 150,000 allied troops – including 73,000 Americans – stormed the beaches in a day now acknowledged as the greatest amphibious landing in history, one of the most pivotal battles against Axis forces, and the beginning of a successful campaign to liberate Europe.

On the 80th Anniversary of D-Day, President Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron honored a dozen D-Day survivors with France’s highest military honor, the Légion d’Honneur. It’s an award given to honor the sacrifices of true patriots.

Our annual Brand Keys survey honors patriotism too, but in this instance for brands. Not, alas, with a medal, but with increased consumer engagement, loyalty, and profits. And yes, we focus on for-profit brands. If you’re interested in the origins of the list, and the raison d être for this 23-year exercise, you can find that here. But assessments for the armed forces, the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marines, and Navy are always included. They too are brands, albeit not for profit. This year consumers rated the armed services #1 when it came to patriotism. Just as they have since the survey was first conducted in 2001. We recognize that and, as always, we thank them for their service.

The thing is, when it comes to for-profit brands, you can’t just ask people if they think a brand is patriotic. Sure, you’ll get a “yes” or a “no” but it’s a tough value for consumers to articulate let alone for brands to accurately measure. Particularly in a truly global marketplace. And a consumer marketplace more tribal and political than ever before. Certainly, more than any time since we initiated the survey 23 years ago! Consumer engagement with “patriotism” is entirely emotional. It’s a near-instantaneous reaction people have when it comes to brands. They automatically connect all the dots, factor in the history and heritage of a brand, their brand experience, and unconsciously recognize how much the brand stands for a particular value. In this instance, the single value of “patriotism.” 

But as consumer-to-brand outreach has become more automatic, more social, more instinctive, and more intuitive, it’s critical if a brand wants to be felt to be patriotic, it needs a real emotional underpinning to do that. History matters. The past and the present. In real-time and as it relates to consumer experience. If there’s such a thing as “patriotic DNA,” certain brands have it and it shows up in our psychological emotional assessments.

To determine national brand rankings when it comes to the value of patriotism, this year we asked 7,460 consumers, 18 to 65 years of age, balanced for gender and political affiliation, to assess 1,381 brands in 143 B2C, B2B and D2C categories. We used our independently validated Brand Keys emotional engagement measures to identify how well brands resonated for the single value of “patriotism.” You can find details to our philosophy and methodology here.

The following were identified as the top-50 brands best at meeting today’s patriotism challenge. We’ve indicated which brand were new to this year’s list.

  1. Jeep
  2. Ford
  3. Levi Strauss
  4. Coca-Cola
  5. Disney
  6. Walmart
  7. Harley Davidson
  8. Apple
  9. Jack Daniels
  10. Amazon
  11. Hershey’s
  12. Ralph Lauren
  13. Wrangler
  14. Dunkin’
  15. American Express
  16. Colgate
  17. MSNBC
  18. Mattel (Barbie) NEW
  19. Old Navy
  20. Domino’s
  21. Kellogg’s
  22. Nike
  23. FOX News
  24. Pepsi-Cola
  25. McDonald’s
  26. WeatherTech
  27. New Balance
  28. Calvin Klein NEW
  29. NFL
  30. MLB
  31. NBA
  32. Gillette
  33. L.L. Bean
  34. Target NEW
  35. Gatorade
  36. Wilson Sporting Goods
  37. AT&T
  38. John Deere
  39. KFC
  40. Heinz NEW
  41. Macy’s
  42. American Eagle Outfitters NEW
  43. Costco
  44. Hanes NEW
  45. Converse NEW
  46. USAA
  47. Oreos (Mondelez) NEW
  48. Weber Grills
  49. Revlon NEW
  50. Home Depot NEW

Why is this more important than ever? Well, the brandscape is now more challenging, tribal, and political. Even with balanced consumer samples, partisan antipathy – more powerful than any point in the 23 years since the survey was initiated ­– is manifesting itself in both the political and consumer arenas. So, it’s critical brands do this kind of value drill-down. 

Brands that differentiate and engage via a truly emotional value, especially something as strong as ‘patriotism’ always see increased engagement, which always results in better consumer behavior toward the brand. Better behavior, better profits. In most cases six times better. Because brands that can make meaningful, emotional connections will always have a strategic advantage over the competition, and will always win consumers’ hearts, minds, and loyalty.

And when you do that, consumers don’t just stand up and salute, they stand up and buy!

Photo by Bruce Warrington on Unsplash

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