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How Two Marketers Created the Pledge of Allegiance
Here’s a thought leadership example that stands the test of time.
The term “thought leadership” is surely one of the most eyeroll-inducing terms in the marketing lexicon.
It’s overused to the degree that it’s easy to get jaded about the whole idea. Have marketers ever actually led the way people think?
Well, there’s the story of James Upham and Francis Bellamy.
From Promotion to Pledge
Upham and Bellamy were in the promotions department at a 19th century family magazine called The Youth’s Companion. When people subscribed, they received a promotional gift, ranging from watches to sewing machines.
In 1888, they launched a new promotion. Subscribe, get an American flag.
This was shortly after the Civil War. Flying a flag was uncommon, but there was swelling patriotic sentiment. (Coincidentally, the first known use of “thought leader” was right around this time as well.)
Sensing an opportunity to lead this national conversation, they successfully lobbied legislators and educators to install more flagpoles. They also convinced hundreds of schools to participate in a choreographed celebration marking the 400th anniversary of Columbus landing in America, including a verbal flag salute they wrote themselves.
On Sept. 8, 1892, they published this pledge in Youth’s Companion. It’s now called the Pledge of Allegiance.
Today, the pledge is recited by 50 million students every school day, and spoken regularly everywhere from city halls to Girl Scouts meetings. Safe to say most people don’t realize this fundamental American tradition was created by a couple marketers.
Meanwhile, Youth’s Companion became the most popular weekly in the country, earning half a million subscribers and contributors ranging from Mark Twain to Emily Dickinson.