SALUTE AND SPEND: Why Memorial Day Advertisers Are Unpatriotic and Annoying

Written by Chuck Gruenwald on May 23, 2015

Can you name the last advertisement that you have seen?

In a strange twist of irony, it seems that despite the expansion of locations where advertisers promote their customers’ wares, the intended targets, at least in my case, have become immune to many of their messages and tactics.

While watching televised highlights of a European cricket match on BBC News several years ago, it was impossible to not notice the number of advertisements that were haphazardly placed around the stadium; in some locations along the edges of the playing field, small advertisements were blocking parts of much larger ones.

Among the clutter, the only ad that I remember was for an automobile manufacturer named Skoda. The reasons why I remember their field-level billboard, are because Skoda has no U.S.-based dealers, and I had seen a few of their cars while on a trip to Germany. As for the other signs, they had earned their place among other examples of background noise that were just as easy to tune out as the excessive advertising back home.

Until last week, one of the most contemptible tools used by advertisers in my opinion, was using parts of songs in radio and television spots. Hearing part of a song is irritating not only because this practice exposes an advertiser’s creative void, but if a song that I enjoy listening to is used, it seems as though the advertiser is intruding into my personal space.

No, I will not buy a product because a now-former favorite song is used to shamelessly plug it. In fact, that song will not find its way into my radios’ speakers for a long time.

My personal time with my music has no room for songs that have been extorted by creatively-complacent advertisers who want me to associate those songs with specific products. The decision by either Plymouth, or Isuzu, or Yugo, or DeLorean, or Daewoo, or whichever car company it was to currently ruin, er, run a Capital Cities song in their commercials – a song that I used to like – has saved me money, money that I would have spent on a copy of a CD that contains that song.

The only exception to my rule about songs and ads is an old Volkswagen commercial that made the song “Mr. Roboto” a humorous part of the ad, instead of an uninspired add-on.

Yes, as of last week, that, and buying the naming rights to a stadium were the most-contemptible methods of promoting products or companies, in my opinion. However, news broke that the Department of Defense had paid some NFL teams to stage pre-game tributes to veterans.

What is probably most disturbing about this revelation is that it was easy to assume that those teams were voluntarily presenting those tributes as an act of gratitude. If those teams needed financial incentives to honor individuals who had voluntarily offered to sacrifice themselves for those people who own those teams, then the already-intrusive nature of modern advertising has grown in a manner where honor is once again for sale.

The practice of selling stadium naming rights was probably the first example of selling honor. When sports teams and stadium owners sell a stadium’s naming rights, they have decided that the naming of a stadium is not as much of an earned honor, as it is an honor with a price tag.

However, perhaps the thought of having to “encourage” some teams to recognize the members of the Armed Forces may not be so far-fetched.

Back in late 2006, there was a public relations incident involving the Chicago Bears, and the Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based 440th Airlift Wing, an Air Force Reserve unit that was scheduled to close and then relocate under a then-recent base-closing mandate.

The 440th Airlift Wing was in the process of moving from Milwaukee to Pope Air Force Base in North Carolina. Since the membership of the 440th was split between Wisconsin and Illinois, leaders at the 440th wanted to conduct a flyover at a Bears-Packers game.

After learning that the Packers organization had committed to allowing the Madison, Wisconsin-based fighter wing to conduct a flyover at Lambeau Field, the 440th’s Public Affairs office contacted the Bears organization regarding a possible flyover at Soldier Field during the Bears-Packers game on December 31, 2006. According to WTMJ-AM, and WBBM-TV’s website, the response from the Bears organization was “we don’t want you here, because your planes (C-130s) don’t fit our image.”

While trying to brush this incident off as a misunderstanding, a Bears spokesman did not explain how such a quote could end up as a “misunderstanding.”

As in the words of a WTMJ news reporter, “the aircraft of the 440th were good enough to fly in Iraq, but they are not good enough to fly over Soldier Field.”

Since, according to the NFL, honor has a price, would the individuals within the Bears organization have made this same decision if they were paid to change their opinion? Fans of sports teams and customers of companies deserve to know if their loyalty is misplaced in organizations that need to be paid – or shamed – into doing what is right.

Nobody should be encouraged to act in a manner that is counter to their true nature. In fact, everyone should have the external encouragement to express their true character. Creative advertising and the honest expression of opinions are the best forms of advertising, not intruding into the personal lives of customers, affixing a price tag to honor, or making a statement in private, with the hope that it doesn’t become public.

Bad decisions are like good decisions and creative advertising: they are hard to forget. May the tributes this Memorial Day to those who will not return home, so that we have a place to call home, be honest and sincere.


Born in Chicago and raised in northwest suburban Cook County, Chuck Gruenwald developed an unfavorable opinion of machine politics quite early in life. In addition to cars, electronics, law enforcement, and politics, Chuck enjoys writing, and is also a horse racing fan. He has recently written op-eds for