Happy Fourth of July! Every (Patriotic) Picture Tells a Story

Unlike other U.S. holidays, which are often memorials to fallen warriors and past wars, or sober salutes to deceased American leaders, the July 4th holiday is a picnic and party event. It is, after all, a birthday party.

Because of the upbeat informality of the holiday, brands have little fear about harnessing the holiday to a marketing promotion or campaign. Examples range from patriotic salutes to the flag and founding fathers, to flat out sales promotion—“BUY NOW! They’re selling like firecrackers!”

In recent years, we have seen everything from Budweiser’s “America” rebranding, to Planter’s Peanuts spoofing historical figures via Mr. Peanut playing dress-up, to Clear Channel spelling out the words of our national anthem on digital billboards across 36 states. And Ancestry.com just offered a holiday-themed campaign showing descendants of the original signers of the Declaration of Independence.

The key to tying marketing to the Fourth is to cater to the party vibe, and to avoid the political. Straightforward patriotism and saluting the day as a national time for kicking back, noshing on picnic foods and playing baseball are not just acceptable, but positively required. A focus on friends and family? Definitely. Highlighting U.S. history via parade- and celebration-themed graphics? Absolutely. Nostalgia for the good old days? A safe bet.

For your entertainment, we’ve explored over 100 years of ads and imagery surrounding our nation’s birthday. Each picture tells a story about a particular time and place, the attitudes and the subtext. The wealth of (and attention to) detail in commercial art and photographic images contain anthropological, sociological, and historical information… and even better, humor.

Click through the gallery below...


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