Jeep, Walmart, Disney top 'most patriotic brands' list
The definition of patriotism in the U.S. has arguably been under more scrutiny over the past year than at any other time in recent memory. But even the perfect storm of a global pandemic, a racial justice reckoning and a polarized political system did little to sway the rankings of Brand Keys’ annual Most Patriotic American Brands survey.
Automakers, entertainment companies, news organizations and food and beverage titans formed the bulk of the top 10, mirroring the composition of the uber-patriotic list’s top contenders from previous years.
Unsurprisingly, Jeep was the top-ranked brand on the list—a title it has held for 19 straight years, ever since consumer engagement consultancy Brand Keys first conducted its patriotism survey in the aftermath of 9/11. The U.S. Armed Forces—which Brand Keys has long asked respondents about, but does not include in the official top 50 for-profit companies—was the only entity to rank higher than Jeep. The auto brand actually has military ties—its roots date back to 1941 when it was created for Allied soldiers in World War II. (Jeep is now owned by Stellantis, which is headquartered in Amesterdam.)
Rounding out 2021’s Most Patriotic list are Arkansas-based retailer Walmart at No. 2, up one position from 2020; entertainment giant Disney in third place, up three spots from last year; Amazon and Ford tied for the No. 4 position, down two and up three places on the list respectively; and the New York Times in fifth, bumped up three positions from the previous ranking. Conservative-leaning Fox News ranked just three spots behind liberal-leaning New York Times, showing that Americans are even polarized about which media brands they deem as patriotic.
Brand Keys president Robert Passikoff says that movement of brands’ rankings on the list this year has been “comparatively modest." There was only one first-time entrant: CNN at No. 24. (Assuming there were no ties, the news network would actually come in 37th place, but due to equal consumer sentiment among many brands, Brand Keys’ numbered list only goes up to 30.)
Last year's list was far less static than this year's list, with more than a dozen brands from Purell to Campbell’s Soup making the the top 50 for the first time ever. Referring to the 2020 changes, Passikoff says, "The state of the world and the marketplace have changed basic tenets of consumer loyalty and perceptions of patriotism, generally and within the context of brands.”
This year’s biggest movers were Home Depot, up nine positions since the home improvement retailer first appeared on Brand Keys’ list a year ago; pandemic-era staple Zoom, meanwhile, is one of few brands that likely won’t benefit from COVID-19 coming under control, dropping 17 places to No. 50 on the 2021 list.
Zoom—a first-time entrant on last year’s list—may have then benefitted from what Passikoff calls a “pandemic pop” that some brands received in the early months of the pandemic.
“Last year the pandemic affected how consumers viewed patriotism and brands,” says Passikoff, with brands in sectors such as disinfectants, insurance and social networking getting the patriotic boost “because they were there when consumers needed them most.” But with COVID-19 vaccination rates steadily increasing in the U.S. and the pandemic being brought under control at home, many of those brands did not enjoy the same lift for 2021’s survey, he says.
Six companies also reappeared on the Most Patriotic American Brands list in 2021 after falling off in previous years: Harley-Davidson, Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, John Deere, the National Football League and Tesla.
“Here’s a little brand advice,” says Passikoff. “When it comes to engaging consumers, waving the American flag and having an authentic and believable foundation for being able to wave the flag are honestly entirely different things. Consumers know the difference!”
When brands establish emotional connections with consumers rooted in strong feelings, such as patriotism, they respond up to six times more positively, Brand Keys’ research has found.
Brand Keys’ survey was conducted using a national sample of 5,804 consumers between the ages of 16 and 65, balanced for gender and political affiliation and drawn from the nine regions of the country defined by the U.S. Census. Survey respondents were asked to assess nearly 1,200 brands “as to their resonance for the single value—‘patriotism,’” the firm says.