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 marketing 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 poor reviews. 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 video on this YouTube 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
— Huffington Post (@HuffingtonPost) May 27, 2016
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.
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Macy’s: NAILED IT
Last year, Martha Stewart partnered with Macy’s to promote her meal prep campaign. If any brand is going to nail Memorial Day retail marketing, it’s Macy’s — always clean, patriotic and connects well with their audience.
Memorial Day is associated with big cookout parties involving BBQ, families, hours in the sun and big sales. This ad by Martha Stewart connects with this feeling of community while offering helpful storage containers for the inevitable post-party clean up.
American Airlines: FAILED IT
The intention of this post is wholesome, but the airline company could have done better. Compared to the other posts of that week, this was the one that performed the worst and had the least number of engagements. As an American airline, the Tweet could have celebrated Donald Jeremiah’s work more with a higher quality image, more lively content or an animated portion.
People Magazine: NAILED IT
— People Magazine (@people) May 26, 2016
People’s promotion of a more timely and appropriate article for the holiday weekend was successful. The advice, released a day before the long weekend, points toward the more than 38 million Americans slated to travel this weekend. With a whimsical gif to get people excited about their big plans, this is much more successful than their other Memorial Day post.
Hooters: FAILED IT
— Hooters (@Hooters) May 27, 2013
In 2013, 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. The whole campaign came across in poor taste despite its seemingly good intentions.
The following year, 2014, 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 an improvement over last year’s efforts.
PETCO: NAILED IT
PetCo decided to angle their Memorial Day post for the celebratory side of the holiday weekend. They decided to make a tasteful post regarding dogs and people in the military. The post offers a blue transparent filter with an American flag and an ode to fireworks with a soft branded sticker at the bottom left of the post.
This post was well-received and had relatively more engagement compared to their other posts. Instagram offers brands a way to serve up high-quality images and short supporting copy that can work well on Memorial Day.
How To Nail Your Memorial Day Social Media Post
It’s easy to forget the reason Memorial Day exists and why it’s important to make a branded appearance on this day. Today, many brands will either post something significant to honor veterans or not post at all and move straight into June.
If you do choose to make a post on social media here’s what you’ll need to totally nail it:
Remember What You’re Celebrating
Before getting started with your Memorial Day post, take a moment to reflect on what the day truly represents. For military families, this is a time to honor those who have fallen while serving. Although many Americans have grown to associate the day with a 3-day weekend, this isn’t usually an appropriate way to frame the marketing ad.
Take Note of Past Social Media Fails and Wins
What did social media posts of the past do to nail their marketing campaign? They chose to either offer a sale or tastefully honor Memorial Day as the day intended. Here are a few ideas on how to do the same:
- Run a donation campaign.
- Give military members a large discount or items for free.
- Highlight patriotic products.
- Create Memorial Day package deals.
- Run a Memorial Day-specific product line.
- Donate a portion of or all of the proceeds to a military charity.
It’s important not to mix a product promotion with honoring troops — unless you do it the right way. For example, Chobani ran a product line for Memorial Day that sold a new type of Greek yogurt that also donated the proceeds to Operation Homefront. However, you can’t just paste red, white and blue colors on a product and call it patriotic without coming off as mute and insensitive.
Post on the Right Day
A day late and a penny short doesn’t work for social media posts. All social media should be timely and relevant no matter the product or the holiday. When putting together your May social media calendar, look up when Memorial Day is, and ensure you’re prepared to post at the right time and day.
If you’re running a month-long campaign, you can always start earlier in the month to create excitement. But, be sure to notify followers of when Memorial Day is and to post on that day for a timely end to the sale.
Utilize Respectful Copy
Memorial Day isn’t necessarily a “happy” holiday. To which, adding “Have a happy Memorial Day” to your social media post would come off as insensitive and inappropriate. Instead, here are a few ways you can structure your copy:
- We wish you a meaningful Memorial Day.
- We honor our fallen heroes.
- Take a moment to remember those who have served our nation.
- We don’t know them all, but we honor all of them.
The post should still be branded, but it doesn’t have to be the center of attention for this day. Something like what PetCo used in a corner of the image is just enough to remind followers of the company they’re following but not too much to take away from the overall message is just right.
Editor’s Note: April 2023.