Branding the Flag

I’m going to really step in it today, but a (political/branding) discussion with strong feelings is already brewing, and maybe we can attempt to have a reasonable conversation about it.

Think with me for a few minutes.

Yesterday, on the Barack Obama twitter feed, the following tweet appeared, with a link leading to the image shown below:

(one of several posters you can order for $35.00)

My immediate reaction was one of being offended, a sentiment shared by many others, judging from the on-line reaction. This is hardly, of course, the first time that the American flag has been artistically altered in some fashion. However, the immediate message that this graphic sent to me was that we Americans are to be united under Mr. Obama. The replacement of the 50 stars and the 13 stripes (representing people and states united under a Constitution), seemed jarring and presumptuous. If a big Romney R were in the upper left corner, I’d feel the same way. From a branding perspective, should it not be obvious that this approach would offend many who feel a deep reverence for the American flag? How would people in the Armed Services feel about seeing this rendition?

You. Just. Don’t. Do. That. Or so it seemed to me on the gut reaction level.

But that’s my reaction. And I’m interested to know how others feel. I’m going to encourage you to add your comment, but here are the ground rules:

1. In one sentence, describe your gut emotional reaction to this graphic and approach, in one of three ways: Offensive, Neutral, Positive.

2. In that same sentence or perhaps one other, explain why you feel that way.

On this blog, we talk a lot about branding, and a lot about condensed and vivid messaging. Political campaigns are all about that. I’d like to know how others respond to altered flag imagery.

DO NOT go off on a political rampage about Romney, Obama, Bush, Iraq, the deficit, Putin, Ayn Rand, or whatever – those arguments are raging everywhere and this blog isn’t the place for it. Don’t go on a bashing rampage about “the other” political party. I’ll delete such comments. Let’s keep it to a discussion of this one issue about use of American flag imagery in this particular instance. If you have longer-form thoughts about artistic use of flag imagery in general, you might want to have that discussion on your own blog. Agreed?



About Steve Woodruff
Steve Woodruff is a blogger, a Connection Agent, and a consultant in the pharma/healthcare industry. He specializes in helping people and companies make mutually beneficial connections.

10 Responses to Branding the Flag

  1. gonzospet says:

    Gut feeling says HORRIBLE- don’t desecrate the flag. That represents an entire nation, mind set, and lifestyle to people not a political ad or campaign.

  2. Joe Cascio says:

    I’m neutral on all flag related art. I don’t find this one either particularly compelling or off-putting. People can and have used flag symbology since the dawn of the Union. I don’t own the flag and neither does anyone else. Politicians, corporations, car dealers, porn stars and preachers have used or incorporated interpretations of the flag to “brand” themselves in patently and shamelessly exploitive ways. What’s so different about this one? It’s from the wrong guy, that’s what.

  3. Rick Simoni says:

    Offensive…It’s not his to “Brand”.

  4. What I said on Facebook was, “Apparently, somebody needs to point out to this guy that he’s taken an oath to serve a different flag, not that the rest of us are pledging allegiance to him.” Some agreed with me, others said I was being ridiculous and making something out of nothing.

    From a branding standpoint, I can’t believe that this passed muster in the campaign. I certainly had to get blessed by high-level officials, if not the man himself. How could they not see it would rub a lot of people the wrong way?

  5. Joe Cascio says:

    If anyone’s interested, my longer form thoughts on this question.

    • Joe, as I’ve contemplated this issue over a number of hours, I see it splitting into two pathways: 1. Taking the elements of the flag itself (such as stars, stripes, colors, etc.) and using them (e.g., for clothing or as part of a political campaign); and 2. Actually changing the elements of the flag while maintaining its form, implying a variant meaning (this is what the Obama campaign did).

      Most politicians will use the entire flag, or its elements, in a campaign – I “get” that and it doesn’t really bother me. I do have mixed feelings about using the flag and its elements as cheap art and fashion. But those things don’t constitute a hijacking of the form of the flag in order to change its meaning through altered elements. That, I find offensive. I think the campaign is very tin-eared to think that many Americans won’t feel the same way.

  6. Scott Sauve says:

    Ego-Centric, why a single person, president or not, feels they should be the center of America and extending that notion to the flag is very negative to me. It indicates that Obama is not in a position to serve, but to be served. Reminds me of all the dictatorial leaders with their faces/symbols plastered all over their country (not as part of an election campaign).

  7. Offensive. I pledge allegiance to the United States of America not the United Campaign of Obama. (Or any other politician that chooses to change the American flag to promote himself.)

  8. Tom Furlong says:

    I’m on the offended side of neutral (& would feel the same way if Romney created a similar image) but not enough to get upset.

    I definitely feel it is a bad branding strategy because it will allow the opposition to hit on many preceived “negatives”: Imperial Presidency, Cult of Personality, and as Scott mentioned above, that the leader is to be served, not to serve.

  9. Kelly Lorenz says:

    I feel the same way. It’s offensive because it comes across as we should worship him and he is our great and fearless leader. No. I wouldn’t mind if they integrated him with the flag in some way, but not like this.

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