Every year about this time we begin to see lists of the “top American Brands” based on emotional engagement strength for the value of “patriotism.” These lists are roughly the same every year, featuring some of the most iconic American brands: Jeep, Coca-Cola, Disney, Levi Straus, Ford, Jack Daniels, Harley Davidson, and Apple. All share an association with uniquely American products: blue jeans, pickup trucks, motorcycles, whiskey, and now smart phones.
The lists are fun, but they don’t tell us much about how consumers who most strongly identify with the value of patriotism (those who are more passionately vs. passively patriotic) really think and feel. What motivates them? What drives their purchase behavior?
On the surface, this population of 17 million US adult “patriots” looks much as you expect them to. They skew male (55%), older (62% of them are over age 45), and conservative (they watch Fox News, love GOP presidential candidates, and distrust Elizabeth Warren). They are also far more likely than the general population to own pickup trucks, enjoy hunting, and watch NASCAR. So far, nothing surprising.
When you dig deeper into their values and motivations, however, you find some of the “why” behind the story. For one thing, they’re a strongly social group, with deep ties to their communities, over-indexing on Societal Responsibility as a personal value while simultaneously under-indexing on such personal motivations as self-fulfillment, happiness, and peace of mind. In their purchase behavior, they’re strongly motivated by societal issues—40 percent of them will shop based on social issues, and they over-index on contacting companies about social issues and favoring companies that support their communities. They’re even more likely than the general population to travel in order to purchase products based on social issues.
In perhaps the most surprising insight for a group susceptible to stereotyping, they’re strongly motivated by environmental protection—an interest likely linked to their strong community values rather than any political philosophy. While they tend to be skeptical of the link between human activity and climate change, and are generally opposed to regulations designed to curb emissions, they over-index on environmental protection as a personal value. What’s more, environmental protection strongly factors into their attraction to products in specific categories (see table below). They’re also more likely to purchase products that are produced sustainably, are energy efficient, and safe. What explains this dichotomy? Perhaps “patriots” consider environmental protection more of a community value than a political issue. Likely they see environmental preservation as something that impacts their home town first and foremost.
There’s no doubt that “patriotic” Americans love iconic American brands. Marketers hoping to build engagement and brand equity with this audience, however, should do more than feature American flags, Mom, and apple pie in their messages. Instead, highlight your brand’s connection to community and localized references to environmental values, and remind them that Independence Day celebrates “We the People.” Patriots seem to really understand that patriotism begins at home.