Flag-Waving Tech Companies Raise Issues

Admirers call it patriotic. Detractors say it reeks of jingoism. Others, including myself, say it's marketing.

Admirers call it patriotic. Detractors say it reeks of jingoism. Others, including myself, say its marketing. The "it" in this case is the brazen display of the American flag by computer technology companies in response to the Sept. 11 attacks.

The most ostentatious display is by Siebel, which hung an 85-foot-high flag on its building not far from my office. The flag, visible for miles, caused a stir in early October when local officials and competitors complained that it exceeded a local ordinance for large signs. Siebel countered that American flags were exempt, and the flag still hangs.

Meanwhile, just about every major computer company in the valley has hung a flag, prompting the cynical to call them armchair patriots.

I see nothing wrong with Siebels massive flag. I mean, no one raises an eyebrow when huge blimps float ads over football fields. No one batted an eye when, at Comdex, Microsoft hoisted a Windows XP banner that would dwarf Siebels American flag. No one seems to care when their eyeballs are attacked by a barrage of endless billboards that litter the freeways.

Computer companies have almost every right to display a flag, just as we individuals do. Almost, however, is the operative word. Its interesting to note that these huge billboardlike flags arent floating above nontechnology companies. At the least, it shows the computer companies still are exuding the brazenness that brought them to leadership. At worst, it shows that they havent lost their level of self-importance.

Its also interesting to note that companies that lost employees in the Sept. 11 attacks are far more subtle in their patriotism. These include Akamai, which lost its founder; SlamDunk Networks; and Sun. Clearly, these companies feel that it is inappropriate to go overboard on the flag-waving.

There are companies that try to take advantage of disasters with marketing under the guise of patriotism. Siebel and the others are not among them. Theyre as computer technology companies should be: patriotic; ultimately competitive; and, if theyre going to hang a flag, the one they hang better damn well be the best there is. Thats the American way.

Can patriotism cross the line? Write to me at [email protected]