Christmas is six weeks away, and the country’s marketers and advertisers are standing by, ready to deck the halls, bust out the displays and get the full-page ads in shape for yet another holiday shopping season.
But before the registers start ringing up Black Friday sales, America’s commercial institutions have one more stop to make. No, not Thanksgiving. Nothing to sell there but turkeys and hams.
Today is Veterans Day. What to many of us is a day of respect and recognition and solemnity is in too many ways something else as well: the nation’s newest money-making holiday.
Veterans Day Sales Pitch
Originally called Armistice Day by President Woodrow Wilson in 1919, the somber event was proclaimed to honor the heroism of those who died in combat during World War I. The day evolved to celebrate the service of all living veterans of the United States military – whether they were in uniform in times of peace or conflict.
Today approximately 23.2 million U.S. citizens fit that demographic, and merchants of all kinds see that number of potential customers as just too big for them to pass up. While years ago the date might have merely provided a background for the odd mattress or new car sale, these days the minions of Madison Avenue rev up their marketing machines to a virtual war-time footing.
After the parades have wound down, America’s stores and restaurants are already geared up:
Friendly’s is offering free breakfast and coffee to vets who still have an early reveille.
Olive Garden has its own special veterans’ menu.
California Pizza Kitchen will serve every veteran a free pizza and drink.
Active duty or military veterans can get a complimentary Bloomin’ Onion and a Coke at his or her neighborhood Outback Steakhouse.
And Brooks Brothers is offering a 25 percent discount on any in-store purchase this weekend for all active-duty and retired military personnel.
Active Military Also Part of Veterans Day Crowd
But American companies are way too savvy to leave themselves open to charges of crass commercialization on a day that is supposed to be dedicated to courage, sacrifice and duty. Woven within the marketers’ calls to arms are charitable events and jobs programs designed to benefit veterans of the country’s most recent military adventures.
Coca-Cola announced that it has hired more than 800 veterans since May. Chase Bank has committed to hire at least 100,000 veterans by 2020 and is planning to give away 1,000 mortgage-free homes to them by 2016.
H.J. Heinz, the ketchup maker, is donating up to $250,000 to the Wounded Warriors Project. The Uno Chicago Grill restaurant has pledged donations to Services for the UnderServed, which assists veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq. And Brooks Brothers (again) is donating to the Suits for Soldiers Program.
Perhaps it’s too cynical to claim that all of these retailers are simply interested in making a profit off of yet another national holiday. No doubt there are sincere CEOs who merely want to honor those who served in the military and help make life better for them and their families.
In fact, the employment of veterans – particularly newly minted ones from Iraq and Afghanistan – was an issue in the 2012 presidential campaign and is something the United States must solve, and quickly.
But as Calvin Coolidge once declared, “The business of America is business.”
And if an additional buck or two can be made by waving a little extra red, white and blue on a day that celebrates service to flag and country, any good salesman would say that it’s probably worth fighting for.