Patriot Games: National pride swells in the heartland, but the rest of America isn't too far behind.

By Published on .

As the sun sets on the Fourth of July, many of us will gather on park lawns across the country to `ooh' and `ah' at fireworks displays. Then we'll fold up the flag and call it a day. For marketers, however, the flag-waving will have only just begun.

The American flag - an image known to evoke an emotional response - is commonly used in advertising. That's because the repeated pairing of a product with a national icon engenders a positive response to the product, much in the same way we respond to the original image. In the coming year, marketers will have even more reason to play on these emotions as we ascend to new heights of patriotism brought on by the Olympics, a national election, and the celebration of the 225th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

In anticipation of such nationalistic events, we attempted to determine exactly where the ardent flag-wavers live. We took 19 measures that marketers suggest are associated with traditional American patriotism - e.g., attendance at religious services, employment in the manufacturing sector, living in the same home for at least a decade - and used Easy Analytical Software, Inc.'s (EASI) database to generate a demographic profile in all U.S. counties. The results are indicated on the accompanying map, which displays the distribution of America's national pride based on the criteria we selected. Counties in deep red are the most patriotic, counties in deep blue are the least so.

EASI's research reveals that nationalism runs deep in many parts of the country year-round. Most obvious is the Midwest's concentration of patriots. As for the South, it appears they're not just whistling Dixie. Many of the "Star-Spangled" are found in states such as Virginia, West Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina. And, while areas with greater numbers of foreign-born residents show up as being less patriotic, Katy Micken, associate professor of marketing at Roger Williams University, warns against over-generalizations. Immigrants are often quite eager to adopt the culture of their new home even as they remain strongly nationalistic toward their native land, she says.

Still, 69 percent of whites claim to be extremely or very patriotic compared with 40 percent of non-whites, according to a Gallup Poll. National pride also increases with age. As Gallup reports, 77 percent of adults 50 and older have high levels of patriotism, as do 65 percent of those between the ages of 30 and 49. Only 40 percent of adults aged 18 to 29 claim to have a strong sense of national pride. The least likely to wrap themselves in stars and stripes: high school and college-age students.

What should marketers keep in mind when targeting these passionate Americans? For one, they like the status quo. "This leads them to buy things their mothers and even their grandmothers bought," says Keith Schloemer of the market research firm SRI Consulting. "They are the most loyal of U.S. consumers. If you can show a flag flapping in the background, they'll be sucked right in."

Yet, Americans aren't the only ones to reach for their wallets when national pride stirs. There's no better example of patriotic packaging than a marketing campaign north of the border for Molson Canada. This March, the brewer introduced an ad in which an average "Joe" extols the virtues of being Canadian. "I have a Prime Minister, not a President," he says, standing on a stage as a series of Canuck icons are projected behind him. "I speak English and French, not American...I can proudly sew my country's flag on my backpack. I believe in peacekeeping, not policing. Diversity, not assimilation. And that the beaver is a truly proud and noble animal...Canada is the second-largest landmass, the first nation of hockey, and the best part of North America. My name is Joe and I...Am...Canadian!"

The ad has become a national rallying cry. Crowded sports bars have been known to fall silent when the commercial airs, and Molson credits the ad for a sales uptick. "With globalization and the Internet, there are no more borders that help to define our territory," says Glen Hunt, group creative director for Bensimon Byrne D'Arcy Toronto, the agency responsible for the beer ad. "As we become less and less definable in our groups we look for something to hold onto and identify ourselves."

That's what Macerich Company, owner/operator of 54 U.S. shopping malls, hopes to resonate with its new marketing campaign. The Santa Monica, California-based company plans a summer-long "Gloryous Celebration" to attract shoppers. Events include barbershop quartets, apple pie eating contests, and citizenship ceremonies. It's no coincidence Macerich chose 2000 for the campaign's debut: A company survey revealed that 37 percent of Americans feel most patriotic during the Olympics and 14 percent during national elections.

"We're tapping into that patriotic sense of America in order to bring back to the Baby Boomer the feeling of being a Boy Scout [or Girl Scout] at an ice cream social," says Susan Valentine, the Macerich Company's senior vice president of marketing. "If we can bring that back to them, people will have a renewed spirit." And, so will Macerich executives - if the campaign helps to boost sales.

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