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July 4th and the Generational Gap in American Patriotism

Altaf Shaikh | June 29, 2017 

Every country has something that makes it exceptional. Its citizens have unique ways of expressing their pride and patriotism. And let’s not forgot the politicians who tout that their country is the greatest in the world every chance they get.  America is no different.

This July 4th is the American “Independence Day,” which commemorates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence and the country’s independence from Great Britain on July 4, 1776. Throughout the past 241 years, the United States has presented itself to the world using phrases like, “greatest country in the world,” “American exceptionalism,” “a shining city upon a hill,” and the like.

Patriotism is a very personal thing. In 1776, the 2.5 million Americans living in their newly independent nation would have been at the height of patriotic emotion. In 2017, however, there is more disparity of thought and practice amongst this nation’s 323 million people, and that’s actually relevant to our endeavors as marketers.

Patriotism and the Generational Divide

A 2013 report released by the Pew Research Center identified a significant generation gap in views about American exceptionalism and patriotism. For instance, 48% of Americans still believe the United States is the greatest country in the world. 42% believe it is “one of” the greatest countries. However, only 32% of Millennials buy into that. Millennials were also the most likely generation to say America is not the greatest country in the world. Here’s how each generation responded:

  • Silent generations (Yes – 64%)
  • Baby Boomers (Yes – 50%)
  • Gen X (Yes – 48%)
  • Millennials (Yes – 32%, No – 11%)

The survey also revealed a further gap between Millennials and their elder generations when it came to patriotism.  When asked to agree or disagree with the statement, “I am very patriotic,” the affirmative replies were:

  • Baby Boomers (91%)
  • Silent generations (90%)
  • Gen X (86%)
  • Millennials (70%)

Our Best Days are Ahead

While the above statistics may seem concerning, there are some other figures we need to include in order to get a more holistic view of this younger generation.  For instance, compared to Baby Boomers and Silents, 55% of Millennials and Gen Xers think America’s best days are ahead.  And more than 90% of all the respondents said America’s freedoms have been crucial to our country’s success.

The 2016 Global Shapers Annual Survey (an initiative geared toward strengthening the voice of young people) revealed some key findings about Millennials throughout the world. The top three are:

  1. They are optimistic.
  2. Millennials share a sense of destiny that transcends borders.
  3. They desire honesty, integrity, and transparency.

What I surmise from this is that while Millennials may not appear to be as “patriotic” to their country in the standard way older generations judge patriotism, their patriotism extends beyond the borders of their own countries and embraces it within a global view. Having grown up in another country, myself, I understand that view.

What does this have to do with Marketing?

Patriotism aside, holidays such as the 4th of July are key sales days for retailers. In fact, the National Retail Federation estimates that 219 million Americans will spend $7.1 billion on cookouts and picnics on the 4th this year. This is up from $6.8 billion in 2016. Over 43% of those surveyed said they will be celebrating with fireworks. And, of course, patriotic merchandise sales increase this time of year, as well.

If you’re going to attract more of the Millennial market, first understand them and their views. For one thing, this generation craves “experiences” over “products.” They want to participate with your brand in meaningful ways, even going so far as to influence its future. And they want to feel like they’re making a difference in the world.

Here’s a great example of this. The state of Illinois debuted the “Up for Amazing” campaign this year to increase tourism by attracting adventurous millennials and Gen Xers. Illinois is challenging their audience to explore new cultures and places around the state. “We are asking people to immerse themselves in our local cultures and to return with compelling stories that they can share in person or on their social media channels,” Cory Jobe, Director of the Illinois Office of Tourism, explained in an interview with Josh Noel of the Chicago Tribune. “We’re inviting them to take this challenge with us.”


Illinois Up for Amazing campaign ads

Illinois has honed in on something that is important to Millennials – the experiences that come from exploring and participating in the state’s culture and story. Then sharing it with others.

Go Beyond Traditional

Millennials have been born into a world of technology, social media, and information at the touch of a finger. This younger generation is not as likely to respond to traditional advertising as their predecessors. And, to garner their loyalty, you first have to get their attention.

In her article on Inc.com, Christina DesMarais, co-founder and CMO of Veestro, gives 27 Expert Tips for Marketing to Millennials.  I’ve paraphrased some of them here, but I recommend reading the article.

  1. Millennials often seek information via social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat). Make your content easy to share on these channels.
  2. User-generated content is king. Involve them in the process.
  3. They want an instant response regardless of the channel.
  4. Keep it real – not “salesy”. Be authentic and provide them with unique experiences.
  5. Appeal to their values. Millennials are more likely to embrace brands who are “giving back” to the world. Tell them “why” you are – not “what” you are. What’s your brand’s purpose?
  6. They expect transparency.
  7. The under-35’s are frugal, so coupons, sales, and even product samples can go a long way with them.
  8. Tailor marketing to engage across multiple channels and devices, including SMS and MMS messaging.
  9. Seek brand advocates among Millennial Influencers.
  10. Listen and respond. This generation wants to be heard and know they are driving change.

So, how will many Millennials celebrate the 4th of July this year? In trolling Twitter, I’m seeing a lot of posts from young people expressing their love for America and their excitement about the upcoming holiday.  Based on some of the posts, I’m going to guess the celebrations will include frugality, food, beer, and #Merica.

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Altaf Shaikh

Altaf Shaikh | Founder, CEO

Altaf Shaikh is ListEngage’s Founder and CEO. Altaf has been in software development and digital marketing for more than 25 years. He started ListEngage in 2003 to help businesses transform their email and digital marketing. ListEngage has supported the Salesforce Marketing Cloud since 2003 when it was ExactTarget. As a dedicated Salesforce Partner, ListEngage has served 900+ customers and earned multiple awards, such as: 2013 ExactTarget Global Services Award, the Inc. 5000 three consecutive years, and the Boston Business Journal's FAST 50 two years in a row. Contact Altaf at services@listengage.com.