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7 Memorial Day marketing campaigns that either nailed it or failed it

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Memorial Day is first and foremost a day meant to honor the soldiers who’ve given their lives for their country. For many, it’s also come to represent the beginning of summer, which can make things tricky for marketers looking to post holiday-related content.

There is a certain finesse that comes with creating and sharing Memorial Day content. One step in the wrong direction can lead to an audience enraged that you’ve demeaned the true meaning of the holiday. You can pay respect to the servicemen, and you can post about summer fun, but when you try to combine the two ideas, you enter dangerous waters. If you want to get in on the Memorial Day conversation, it’s best to pick one route or the other and stick to it.

If you choose to go down the solemn path, you simply cannot directly attempt to sell your products or services – it will only breed scrutiny and be poorly received. Opting to highlight the lighter side of the holiday, on the other hand, gives you some leeway to promote your brand, especially if you’re holding a sale.

To get a better idea of what I mean, check out these brands that either nailed it or failed it with their Memorial Day marketing campaigns:

U.S. Navy: NAILED IT.

It makes sense that the military gets Memorial Day sharing right. What the Navy really nailed was not just the total focus on remembering those who gave their lives but the way they reminded their followers of the holiday’s importance. The photo in this Facebook post is dignified, with a subtle somberness that nods to the weight of the day without forcing it down people’s throats. And the inclusion of a short blog written by a Navy officer adds an extra layer of emotional gravity.

The Huffington Post: FAILED IT.

Memorial Day is meant to honor and remember people who died for their country. In its very nature, this makes the holiday a serious one, but that shouldn’t mean evoking sadness, tears and pain. The Huffington Post’s Tweet looks like it does just that, focusing on heartache and grief. While it’s not something to ignore, this aspect of remembrance is often seen to be in somewhat of poor taste. It does gets shared and people will read the article, but it evokes sadness for a holiday that should be reserved to celebrate and remember our fallen soldiers.

What could HuffPo have done instead? They could have chosen a different image from their article, which actually featured a number of less heart-tugging photos, to highlight the post on social. This would have indicated the piece had a more heartwarming approach by sharing photos and stories from families and friends to honor the lives of the soldiers rather than glorifying and capitalizing on the pain and sorrow associated with loss. 

Pepsi: NAILED IT.

Last year, PepsiCo put their products aside to honor the troops with a charity-driven truck relay. In the “Rolling Remembrance” ride, 25 PepsiCo truck drivers, all U.S. military veterans, drove an American flag 5,400 miles from coast to coast. In tandem with the relay, PepsiCo sponsored fundraisers for the Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation, raising more than $50,000.

Nowhere in this effort did Pepsi try to sell their product – aside from the logos on the trucks they were driving. The focus was on the veterans and the flag’s journey as well as the fundraiser, making this campaign a great success.

People Magazine: FAILED IT.

There are so many different ways to celebrate Memorial Day, but doing puzzles really isn’t one of them. People Magazine’s attempt to capitalize on the trending hashtag on Twitter fell flat. The promotion of a new platform for people to do crossword puzzles is ill-timed, and there was no effort or thought put into angling the release for the holiday.

How could they have done it better? Targeting the crowds who look forward to a more casual long weekend of relaxing could have made this post a bit more inspired and relevant.

People Magazine: NAILED IT.

People’s gaming Tweet may have flopped, but their promotion of a more timely and appropriate article for the holiday weekend was much more successful. The advice, released a day ahead of the long weekend, points toward the more than 38 million Americans slated to travel this weekend. With a whimsical gif to get people excited for their big plans, this is much more successful than their other Memorial Day post.

Hooters: FAILED IT.

Last year, Hooters promoted a Memorial Day deal for active-duty and retired service people, and their families, offering 10 free wings with the purchase of a drink. The gesture might have seemed innocuous enough, but the promotion caused an uproar. People claimed that the restaurant chain was insinuating that a soldier’s life was worth exactly 10 wings, insulting the military, the soldiers and the whole purpose of the holiday. Really, the whole campaign came across in poor taste despite its seemingly good intentions.

This year, Hooters attempted to improve their efforts, offering a free meal to all military personnel. The press release focused on the importance of honoring the fallen troops, and did not attempt to make light of the holiday’s importance, claiming their deal is “a small token of our appreciation for all that they do.” It’s definitely an improvement over last year’s efforts.

USDA: NAILED IT.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture decided to angle their Memorial Day post for the celebratory side of the holiday weekend. Their bright, fun infographic offered up helpful tips to enjoy all festivities of the holiday (and the summer as a whole) with good health in mind.

What they did not do was mention the troops, which would have detracted from their message as well as trivialized the importance of the holiday. They chose instead to stay on brand and focus on the lighter side of the long weekend.

Samantha Gordon is the Managing Editor of Brafton.com. With a diverse background writing and editing everything from blogs and whitepapers to romance and sci-fi, Samantha strives for greatness in grammar and quality.

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