Is the National Anthem up for grabs in a commercial?
Last week a reader wrote to The Daily Flag to ask if it was permissible to use the National Anthem, or even part of the song, in a commercial advertisement. He was unhappy because The Pentagon Channel on television was using a portion of the anthem in what is described as a “tribute break.”
I don’t get the Pentagon Channel. I went to the Pentagon Channel’s website, but I couldn’t find video of their tribute breaks, so as to judge for myself how it looks and comes across to the viewer.
What does the U.S. Code have to say about the National Anthem?
Sec. 301. National anthem
1. Designation.–The composition consisting of the words and music known as the Star-Spangled Banner is the national anthem.
2. Conduct During Playing.–During a rendition of the national anthem–
1. when the flag is displayed–
1. all present except those in uniform should stand at attention facing the flag with the right hand over the heart;
2. men not in uniform should remove their headdress with their right hand and hold the headdress at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart; and
3. individuals in uniform should give the military salute at the first note of the anthem and maintain that position until the last note; and
2. when the flag is not displayed, all present should face toward the music and act in the same manner they would if the flag were displayed.
(Pub. L. 105-225, Aug. 12, 1998, 112 Stat. 1263.)
I don’t think you can extrapolate from silence (“it doesn’t say you can’t”) and justify using the National Anthem in a commercial, even if you are The Pentagon Channel, no matter how well-intended. The American lexicon of patriotic and martial music overflows with songs, marches, and hymns to choose from without using the National Anthem.
The day after I responded to the man’s question, I saw a Mountain Dew commercial on TV … the one with a tug-of-war theme and the very loud playing of the National Anthem—the Jimi Hendrix version. Mountain Dew commercials have always been edgy, but does this one cross the line? It’s clever, well-produced, and utterly egregious.
I wrote to Mountain Dew, and asked for them to remove this particular commercial from their television line-up because I thought it was an gross violation of the U.S. Code regarding the National Anthem. Does Pepsi care that this commercial makes me wince? I have not received a reply, but it has only been a few days.
So when is it permissible to use the National Anthem in a way other than how it is cited in the U.S. Code? Who gets to decide?
What if a Hollywood big shot wants to make a movie about baseball? At some point in the movie, there could be a scene with the players and the people in the bleachers saluting the flag, and standing up to sing the Star Spangled Banner. Is that ok, because if it’s done with respect? What if the scene shows some guy in the stands belching out the tune?
We decide. Make your opinion known to businesses when they cross the boundary of respect and good taste. Write, email, telephone (there’s always an 800 number), and make your opinion known at the cash register.
UPDATE: 6-17-08 At 2:00 P.M., I received an email from a woman in Consumer Relations at Pepsi saying,
Thank you for taking the time to email us at Pepsi about our recent advertising. We appreciate your comments and, I assure you, we attach a great deal of importance to the views of our consumers.
For that reason, we sincerely regret that our recent commercial offended or upset you. That was certainly not our intention.
It’s extremely important to us at Pepsi that our advertising serves to enhance the positive image that’s helped place our brands among the world’s most popular consumer products. If we should miss the mark, we need to know about it, which is why I intend to pass along your comments to our ad team. I want them to be aware of your opinion as they discuss future advertising initiatives.
Thanks again for taking the time to email us and for sharing your constructive comments.
This is good start, and I appreciate their prompt response. DH