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‘Most Patriotic Brands’ List Is Almost Completely Arbitrary

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The 4th of July Holiday is over, but we can still talk about which brands benefited the most–and we don’t mean which ones built particularly brilliant campaigns around the event; we mean which brands benefitted from being identified as distinctly American and therefore “patriotic.”

We’ll review five of the top ten placements on a completely subjective measure of patriotism: a survey conducted by the people at the firm Brand Keys and summarized in a Forbes post last week.

So why are these brands seen as “most patriotic?”

1. Jeep

This brand’s product isn’t just noted for being produced in America. It also has a long history with our country’s military. In fact, the two are so closely tied thanks to its widespread use in WWII that survey participants obviously didn’t care about the fact that, once the Fiat/Chrysler merger goes through, Jeep will no longer be an American brand. The holding company will operate out of London by the end of 2014.

Jeep’s repeated win is testament to the power of memory and the inability to change an entity’s established reputation. See also Budweiser, which still ranks 13th on the list despite no longer being a company owned and operated by Americans.

2. Levi’s

Again, history plays an outsized role in the formulation of this list. The fact that the company’s founder had a distinctly American (immigrant) story and that the brand is associated with starting a major global fashion trend are also large contributing factors.

As with Jeep, Levi’s are for the most part no longer manufactured in the U.S. or in any way unique to our culture. But that does not seem to have damaged the company’s standing.

3. Coca-Cola

Like blue jeans, a global phenomenon like carbonated soda that was born in the U.S. will retain its identity as distinctly American long after it has been effectively globalized.

A Motley Fool post even notes that Coke’s role in popularizing the modern image of Santa Claus leads it to be perceived as more patriotic–because even such an international character is still seen as primarily American. Unlike most of the companies on the list, Coke has taken steps to retain its identity: its corporate headquarters, for example, is still located in Georgia close to its place of birth.

Further down the list, things start to get a little trickier:

6. Apple

Yes, Apple is a company founded by Americans that is seen as a world leader in the product design space. Yet we suspect that the main reasons the company belongs to this list are Steve Jobs’ continued popularity as a business icon and the fact that the Apple beats all others when it comes to loyalty and customer satisfaction.

Remember when Steve Jobs told President Obama that he wouldn’t go out of his way to build factories or hire workers in the U.S.? We want to own the company and call it patriotic even though it never made such claims.

8. Amazon

Amazon was one of several brands that entered the top 50 for the first time this year: Facebook, Google, Apple and eBay did the same.

This trend has less to do with certain companies contributing to the American way of life than with them becoming established players in this particular market. Amazon appears on the top 10 along with Walmart even though it has made few decisions with the primary or even secondary goal of improving the lives of people who live in this country.

The very concept of a given brand being “patriotic” is old hat, really. A company like Google (tied for #10 on the list) may be founded in the States and have many of its operations in the States, but does this make it an inherently American company?

Our guess is that an increasingly globalized future will also lead to fewer and fewer companies being identified as “American” and, especially, “patriotic”. The ones that have earned that status over time will continue to leverage it.

It’s all about perception and emotional attachment.

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