Union Pacific : Appropriate Americana

A US rail company’s patriotic messaging is appropriate but sets questions for others.

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The feature

Union Pacific, the largest freight railroad in the US, makes liberal use of the national flag and other American imagery throughout its corporate website. The company logo, which appears in the top left of every page, is itself based on the stars and stripes (with the accompanying slogan ‘Building America’ to drive the point home further). The flag appears several times on the home page, in a number of the photos in the image carousel, as well as in a featured promotional video.

Within the site, the About Us section gives prominent space to the company’s history – it was created via an act of Congress signed into law by Abraham Lincoln (thus he is called a ‘founding father’) with the stated aim of laying track westward to link the country by rail. The Careers section also plays up the relationship between the company and its home country, inviting candidates to ‘play a direct role in where America is going’. Through similar content elsewhere on the site, the company puts across the message that joining Union Pacific is not just a good career move, but also an act of patriotism.

The takeaway

Union Pacific’s use of Americana is appropriate for a company with its unique customer and employee base (the company operates exclusively in the western two-thirds of the United States) and history. A company with any significant international presence could not risk alienating non-US customers or employees in this way, but a company drawing its workforce from within borders turns its US-roots into a unique selling proposition.

A job for other companies is to work out to what extent they can tap nationality in this way. Most large US companies combine their US and global sites – yet too often the editors forget that: sections devoted to ‘veterans’ are particularly prone to assume the visitors are American. On the other hand subtle national messaging - such as the clean minimalist look favoured by many German companies – sends out positive associations without being explicit about it. French sites are often deliberately slightly different; an image the French nurture. ‘Country branding’ can be powerful, but it must be used with care. 

First published 05 November, 2014
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