If you had to think about all the marketing centered around Memorial Day, what might you say characterizes most of the messaging? Especially with consumer products and food, many of the ads on social media, television, and the radio revolve around “celebrating” with barbecues, trips to the lake, or just a good ol’ fashioned day off. While yes, it is true that in popular culture, messaging surrounding Memorial Day has become mostly about three-day weekends, and yes, this makes for a great opportunity to post your brand’s most spectacular cookout recipes...that doesn’t necessarily make it the best approach on this day of observance. Here are some considerations for how to post (respectfully) on Memorial Day:
Memorial Day Marketing (Do’s and Don’ts)
Memorial Day =/= Veterans Day
It can be difficult for many civilians to know exactly what to say about the meaning behind the day when it comes to Memorial Day. Many slip-ups come from well-meaning people who simply confuse Veterans Day and Memorial Day, and while that may feel like a small thing to civilians, it can be feel much more dismissive to, say, combat veterans who have lost treasured friends in war, or families mourning the loss of a loved one in combat. Here’s a quick cheat sheet for who each of the big military-related holidays is designed to honor:
- Armed Forces Day—intended to honor (current) active duty service members; observed the third Saturday in May
- Memorial Day—intended to honor and remember those who died while serving in the United States armed forces; observed the last Monday in May
- Veterans Day—intended to honor veterans (former service members); observed November 11th
Marketers are prone to this mistake, as evidenced by the ad below. (And this wasn’t made better by the fact that this promotion required a drink purchase…and targeted a population at high risk for alcohol abuse…on a day that can trigger PTSD in those who suffer from it after combat. Yikes.)
Think Before You Market
When creating related content, it’s a great idea to remember that as opposed to a formal “holiday,” Memorial Day is really intended to be a national day of mourning. Have you made doubly sure that your related content doesn’t come off as dismissive—or perhaps worse, self-promoting using the deaths of service members as the “hook?” Take this stock photo, for example:
Unless you specifically sell something relevant, this one is a “don’t.” Jeep, on the other hand, does have a connection given their history of manufacturing military vehicles, so their brand in a photo with soldiers makes sense:
(Notice Jeep refrains from pushing, or even mentioning, the brand or associated sales in the caption. A simple “thank you” or “honor and remember” will always suffice.)
Your best bet is to never use images of soldiers (…or stock images of models acting as service members while dressed in out-of-regulation uniforms), military caskets (yes, this happens!), or battlefield scenes to promote your “big Memorial Day sale.” Especially if 1.) your product is irrelevant, and 2.) you aren’t donating proceeds from those sales to an organization that helps veterans, military families, and families who have lost loved ones in war.
Speaking from personal experience, Memorial Day also takes on new meaning to families of deployed service members. It can be an incredibly emotional day for military families because our greatest fear is that the day could very quickly take on a much more personal significance by the very next year. Please keep this in mind—and remember that your target audience very likely includes these individuals.
If you want to specifically post about Memorial Day and its actual meaning, it’s fine to post a simple, patriotic graphic with a relevant slogan that does not promote your brand—your goal here should be to demonstrate to your audience that you share their values, not to trend-jack.
A Little Empathy Goes a Long Way
Much of respectful observance of Memorial Day—along with any other day of observance that concerns tragedy—goes back to knowledge and empathy. That can be as simple as thinking about what we say before we blast it throughout the Twittersphere. For instance: even the commonly uttered phrase “happy Memorial Day” is off the mark, if we think about the people the holiday is designed to commemorate, along with their families, friends, and brothers- and sisters-in-arms. Understand that to anyone for whom Memorial Day is personally meaningful, the “holiday” is not the least bit happy. In contrast, it is a day of remembrance, reflection, connection (or solitude), processing, and grieving—none of which concern things like…oh, I don’t know, the latest puzzles in your magazine:
Now, it isn’t necessarily the case that you can’t post any of your barbecue-related content the whole weekend. It is, after all, due to our service members that we have the freedom to come together, to celebrate, to remember in whatever manner feels right to us. You’d be hard-pressed to find a vet who wouldn’t say that that is exactly the right (s)he is willing to die to protect. But we can all do a little better: think before you market, give credit where credit is due, don’t try to leverage soldiers’ deaths to elevate your (irrelevant) sale, and just err on the side of caution if your content might possibly come off as insensitive to those who will be mourning this Memorial Day.
Want to support current and former active-duty military members and reservists on Memorial Day? Consider offering the day off (with pay) to any who work in your company in any capacity. Many would be grateful for the chance to visit the graves of those lost in combat—and/or to call or spend time with family, whether their own or those of their fallen friends—to volunteer or speak at a school, to check on their living comrades, or to just plain grieve. Want to do more? Check out these Memorial Day volunteer opportunities
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