To observe D-Day anniversary, brand managers lean toward reverence

Commemorating the Normandy invasion, pivotal in altering the course of World War II, organizations and politicians alike turned to stories, photos and sober salutes to its heroes.

D-Day’s 75th anniversary has presented a challenge to PR pros, marketers and others in the business of managing organizations’ reputations.

How would they commemorate a world-shaking historical event, particularly if your connection is tenuous?

Is it wise to for a sports fan site to promote a “D-Day Sale – 10% Off Promo Code: D Day – Remembering Those Great Americans That Saved The World & Al’s Burger Shack BB Combo!”?

Does a tweet of African-American soldiers “before D-Day”—though well-meant—fit the brand of an organization called Boca Bacchanal, devoted to “a weekend of #wine, food & luxury”?

Or is a reverent silence the best policy, given the powerful connections that others have to tragic, history-altering events of the great Allied invasion of northern France?

As world leaders gathered in Normandy to remember the day, both military and historical organizations found multiple storytelling possibilities.

The U.S. Army was a natural. Both on its website and on Twitter, the G.I.s sought to convey the sacrifice of its grunts on D-Day, ranging from celebrating the few surviving veterans of the action to the playing of taps. Some old soldiers (my Korean War veteran father among them) cannot hear the bugle call for the fallen without crying as they recall comrades.

The militaries of other participating nations of course commemorated the day. The Canadian military touted paratrooper reenactments along with historical photos. The British Army threaded a story through its Twitter feed with hour-by-hour updates of events that happened 75 years ago.

“H-Hour for the British and Free French forces @armeedeterre at Sword Beach,” read one tweet. “@3rdUKDivision land near Ouistreham, rapidly neutralise German resistance on the Beach, and head inland. By the end of the day 28,845 men had been landed at the cost of 683 men. #DDay75.”

Modest heroes

The French Army offered a video in which D-Day veterans tell its story, beginning with an elderly soldier who rejected the term “heroes” for him and his fellow soldiers.

Twitter narratives or brand journalism might offer inspiration for social media experts, if used judiciously. Companies with a long history and deep archives might learn from the way the various militaries mixed historical photos and current events to tell a story. Another year’s worth of Second World War 75th anniversaries remain, after all.

That said, the approach works for an event as momentous as D-Day, but might be less successful for anyone live-tweeting a corporate health fair or diversity day.

A coffee company sends a correspondent

The veteran-owned Black Rifle Coffee was a success. Though a bean-roaster’s connection to D-Day may seem tenuous, the brand’s vet-oriented, gun-toting image allows it to cover the events in its Coffee or Die brand journalism site in a way that feels genuine. The company has been posting dispatches from Normandy.

Besides, it’s not the first time Black Rifle has addressed warfare on its site. This year’s Memorial Day post is a first-person account of warfare in Afghanistan. “The bamboo ladder shook as I climbed down to the second floor of the bombed-out complex we were occupying in Sangin, Afghanistan,” states writer Logan Stark. “My team leader met me as I reached the bottom. ‘Justin’s truck hit an IED,’ he said.”

The U.S. Navy recalled its role in powerful visual storytelling that mixes contemporary video with historic footage.

“It’s been said the most important thing every man should know is what he is willing to die for,” the narrator says. “Here among these rows of headstones are countless stories of selfless bravery which have been repeated on battlefields around the throughout history. Our debt to them can never be fully repaid. But our responsibility to them remains.”

The story of the D-Day landings can take on vastly different meanings depending on the organization commemorating it. The U.S. Holocaust Museum decorated its Twitter account background with images of the D-Day landings. Yet it offered poignant reminders that it would be a year until Germany was defeated, allowing Nazis to continue feeding the ovens of Auschwitz.

Politicians weigh in

Politicians marked their presence at the events. President Donald Trump, never a fan of the news media, nevertheless tweeted an ABC News video on the D-Day events.

French President Emmanuel Macron retweeted a ceremony live-cast by the Élysée.

Among U.S. politicians with military experience, the remarks varied. U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), who lost her legs in combat, posted a simple commemorative tweet. U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas), a former Navy SEAL who lost his eye in a firefight, honored Werner Kleeman, “who survived Dachau and went on to serve in the U.S. Army, landing at Normandy on D-Day.”

On the front page

The National World War II Museum in New Orleans, like many such institutions, commemorated the day with front-page treatment on its website.

There were missed opportunities by some. Chrysler-Fiat’s Jeep celebrated the Jeep’s 75 anniversary several years ago, but the iconic military vehicle’s Twitter feed remained silent about the D-Day landing, pushing glossy images of current models instead.

Secret Service, there in France with the president, commemorated the day.

A bank in Eisenhower’s hometown of Abilene, Kansas, found a classy way to news-jack by recalling its hometown hero and his “I Like Ike” campaign buttons.

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