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Presidential Politics Dramatically Reshapes Brand Perceptions of ‘Patriotism’

The 15th annual Brand Keys survey of iconic American brands in over 100 categories reveals a dramatic shift in consumer perceptions of brand 'patriotism.' Jeep, Disney, and Levi Strauss continue to lead an otherwise dramatically re-drawn list of patriotic brands, with brands like Fox News, Tesla, MSNBC, and Twitter joining the 2017 list.

While our recent Presidential election and its aftermath has raised levels of political debate, raised more contentious issues and divided consumers from their brands, importantly, it has dramatically shifted the four key drivers of the perception of patriotism. For example, the driver that was once "pride" has moved closer to "self-importance." The "inclusion" driver has shifted to "marginalization." "Courage" has morphed into "convenience," and "freedom" has actually become the vice of "extremism."

Top 50 Most Patriotic Brands

A national sample of 4,860 consumers, 16 to 65 years of age, balanced for political party affiliation, were asked to evaluate which of 280 brands included in the 2017 survey were most resonant as to 'patriotism.' Consumers identified the following brands as leading the patriotism parade. Bolded names indicate the six new brands that marched into this year's top 50.

  1. Jeep
  2. Levi Strauss
  3. Disney
  4. Coca-Cola
  5. Ford
  6. Hershey's / Twitter
  7. Ralph Lauren
  8. Jack Daniels
  9. Sam Adams
  10. MSNBC
  11. Starbucks
  12. Harley Davidson
  13. Airbnb
  14. GE
  15. Fox News
  16. McDonald's
  17. Colgate / John Deere
  18. Craftsmen Tools
  19. AT&T / Coach
  20. Gatorade
  21. Walmart
  22. American Express
  23. Tesla
  24. KFC / Marlboro
  25. L.L. Bean
  26. Coors
  27. Kellogg's
  28. Instagram
  29. 49ers/Converse /Cowboys/Louisville Slugger /NFL/New Balance/Nike/Patriots MLB/NY Yankees/Wrangler/Wilson Sporting Goods
  30. 30 Apple /Amazon/ Facebook / Google

Re-Written Rules of Branding

Holidays like Independence Day give marketers an opportunity to champion emotional values, some political, but until now, mostly category-based. Typically 4th of July brand advertising and social outreach would feature patriotic flag-waving and red-white-and-blue motifs but a good deal of what used to be forthright marketing has become politicized, with some brands wrapping themselves more tightly in the flag.

Anti-Trump groups have urged consumers to boycott companies and brands seen to back the President, while Trump partisans have created their own lists of preferred and objectionable companies, brands, and CEOs. Whether you're politically left, right, or center. What's clear is that these consumer attitudinal shifts come with a set of newly re-written rules of branding, expressed every day via news programs and social networks like the President's favorite, Twitter, and Millennials' Instagram.

2002 Versus 20017



1.  Jeep


2.  Hershey's

Levi Strauss

3.  Coca-Cola


4.  Kodak


5.  Levi Strauss


6.   Colgate

Hershey's / Twitter

7.  Zippo

Ralph Lauren

8.  Marlboro

Jack Daniels

9.  Walmart

Sam Adams

10. Gillette


There have been shifts in 60% of the top 10 brands that consumers view as most patriotic since Brand Keys first conducted the study 15 years ago. Many brands have disappeared and new brands have emerged. There have been changes in both the technology and the timbre of the times, but some brands have remained true to what they are and what consumers expect them to be.

Sports & Tech Brands See Greater Patriotic Equilibrium

Sports and tech brands were assessed at levels similar to last year but appeared slightly lower on the 2017 list. That said, what's absolutely clear is when it comes to patriotically engaging consumers, waving the American flag and having an authentic foundation for being able to wave the flag are two entirely different things – and consumers know it.

U.S. Armed Services – Always #1

While Brand Keys' annual survey focuses on for-profit brands, assessments for the United States armed services – The Coast Guard, Air Force, Army, Marines, and Navy – are always included. Not unexpectedly, consumers gave all branches of the armed services a patriotic engagement ranking of #1. We recognize that again this year and thank them for their service.

Leveraging Patriotism Six Times More

Believability and authenticity are the keys to emotional engagement. The more engaged a consumer is with a particular emotional value and an associated brand, the more likely they'll trust that emotion and act positively on that belief. Where a brand can establish emotional connections, consumers are six times more likely to believe and behave positively toward the brand.

It is important to note that these brand rankings do not mean that other brands are not patriotic, or that they don't possess patriotic resonance or intention. Rational aspects, like being an American company, or 'Made in the USA,' or having nationally directed CSR activities and sponsorships, all play a part in the personality of any brand. But if you're a brand that wants to differentiate and engage via emotional values, if there is believability, good marketing just gets better. In most cases, six times better.

The Politics of Branding Today

Politics has made itself more emotionally felt this year than ever, particularly when it comes to how consumers look at brands through a patriotic lens. One thing marketers need to learn about 21st century brands is that the ones that can make a meaningful emotional connection with consumers always have a strategic advantage over competitors when it comes to the battle for the hearts, minds, and loyalty of consumers.

Make that connection and consumers will not only stand up and salute, more importantly they'll stand up and buy.

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