Patriotic pitches wearing thin
By Jennifer Harper, The Washington Times, 9 January 2002
Americans still love their flag, but they've just about had it with patriotic-themed advertising.

A new Adweek poll has found that three-quarters of the respondents felt that "patriotic ads have overstayed their welcome." Endless repetition of September 11 references and stars-and-stripes themes had dulled emotional relevance and no longer performed "an important service," the survey said.
     
The poll is ongoing at Adweek's Web site (www.adweek.com).

     
Senior Editor Tim Nudd calls this reaction "united we standoffish," a state he himself reached upon finding a "United we stand" announcement in a men's room stall, and also on the duck sauce in his Chinese take-out dinner.

     
Patriotism or just plain opportunism? Mr. Nudd wonders.

     
"The appropriateness of a message and its placement have been hashed out enough. A better question is whether a phrase like 'United we stand' means anything anymore," he notes.

     
"As with any word you look at too long, somewhere along the way it became a jumble of letters. I no longer knew what it had to do with standing. Or being united. Or us."

     
Annoyance with the marketing of American icons after the terrorist attacks is not a new phenomenon. In September, the public was ripe for the comforting affirmation afforded by sincere messages of condolence and collective spirit from major retailers that often ran in print and broadcast minus a company logo.

     
As the marketplace went red, white and blue, tolerance for the trend began to fade by mid-October.

     
"In the wake of any sort of calamity, opportunists and profiteers crawl out of the woodwork," griped Bob Garfield of Advertising Age, who accused General Motors of trying to stage a "fabulous October 6,000-dead Sale-a-bration" with a national campaign that equated a car purchase with a patriotic act.


"Mass murder, Mr. Garfield said, "is no occasion for marketing."
     
Americans may be increasingly immune to the caterwaul of such things; it is fair to say that they tire of any advertising theme that overstays its shelf life. But fierce, protective feelings about September 11 and its images linger, and have become sacred in many ways.

     
This week, Rich Oppel, editor of the Austin American American-Statesman, issued a lengthy apology for his newspaper's decision to run a parody image of the burning World Trade Center towers on the cover of its Jan. 3 entertainment magazine.

     
The cover depicted a tall guitar amplifier on fire, meant to illustrate the idea that the Austin music scene had gone into a slump. Staffers felt that "using images of the smoke and damage from the attack rendered on a sterile piece of sound equipment" would get the point across.

     
Readers and talk-radio listeners were incensed, to the point they demanded the staff be fired and Mr. Oppel resign. In his apology published Sunday, Mr. Oppel wrote that he preaches "values, standards, good taste and judgment, but I also urge people to take risks with their creativity."

     
Mr. Oppel said he had not seen the cover before it was published and won't fire its creators. He accused local talk-radio hosts of "bumper sticker patriotism," however, noting that "it is a wee much to listen to the radio men preach good taste, judgment and ethics" while an American-Statesman foreign correspondent is walking "the mined roads of the West Bank."

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