Is Advertising and Marketing with the U.S. Flag Unethical?

By Shawn Paul Wood 

vans american flagsHappy (belated) Independence Day. This weekend was America’s birthday. Contact the fire department for these 238 candles. Now, go to the store — any store — and you will see brands adorned with Old Glory everywhere.

Up and down the shelves, the U.S. flag decorates nearly every product you see, quite literally from soup to nuts. If it can be printed, it will be sold. Here’s the question: As patriotic as this country says it is, what about this decoration doesn’t scream “desecration?

Ethics aside, isn’t this just a little illegal? (Hint: the law says yes.)


According to Title 4 of the U.S. Code (Known as the “Flag Code”), which was written in the 1920s and adopted in 1942:

The flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever. It should not be embroidered on such articles as cushions or handkerchiefs and the like, printed or otherwise impressed on paper napkins or boxes or anything that is designed for temporary use and discard.”

That said, during any Fourth of July festivities across this great land of ours, the Stars and Stripes themselves accomplices in illegal activity thanks to marketers everywhere. No arrests are made. No protests are seen. No fits take place. Just cash registers ringing the “Star-Spangled Banner.”

Is this double standard maintained in the interest of sales? We would love to create some conversation on this issue, because we wrote this over the holiday weekend, and the breakroom cupcakes with American Flag toothpicks were calling our name!