The United States of America is a lesson in carefully-crafted branding. What started as a rag-tag group of farmers chucking tea into the harbor has become a world superpower, thanks in part to branding efforts built on a red, white, and blue color scheme and plastic Solo cups (and being one of the first modern democracies, but I digress).
When asked about America’s “brand” abroad, you’ll get a lot of weird answers. But thanks to Stan Lee and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we’ve got a guy that literally embodies the U.S.’s branding efforts, as well as the nation itself.
That’s right—we’re talking Steve Rodgers, also known as Captain America.
We’re going to go over Captain America’s evolution from humble WWII hero to literal universe-saver, specifically by taking a close look at what he’s wearing. We’ll also show you how your brand can learn a few tips from Cap himself. It’s a combination of American history, superheroes, and fashion. (Happy to say that I, as a writer, also feel particularly #onbrand.)
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Steve’s first uniform is decidedly patriotic—and propagandist. While Rogers will eventually lead a team of superheroes independent from world governments, that won’t be for another 70 years. For the first iteration of Captain America, the USO puts Cap in a cloth uniform that offers little protective covering. But it is good for dancing and cheering on troops fighting the Nazis.
Young brands may feel the only way to find success is to state the obvious. Using over-the-top color schemes or distracting shapes and symbols in your branding may seem like a sure-fire way to get your message across, but it’s usually a rookie mistake.
No worries if you’ve started out this way, though. Cap was able to rush into battle in his original OSU costume with a few minor adjustments (a helmet, jacket, pants, and boots). If your branding needs some updating, look for “good bones,” and add a few modifications to make it better-suited (pun intended!) for the battle field. Just call me Peggy Carter.
Thanks to Phil Coulson, Steve’s first uniform post-freezing was inspired by his first, with a few modern adjustments. Cap still retained classic touches from his original suit, including the color scheme and vintage-inspired brown leather accessories. But the vibranium shield that survived his time as a Cap-sicle also stayed as a crucial element to his overall look. It’s the hallmark of Captain America and what he came to be known for.
Great brands remember where they came from. While modernization is tempting, these efforts can sometimes obscure what made the brand great from the start. Be committed to your roots; find out why loyal customers found you in the first place and then stuck around. By building on your historical successes, you’re more likely to keep your brand consistent with old customers while securing new ones.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2013)
Cap’s STRIKE uniform may have been given to him by Hydra masquerading as S.H.I.E.L.D., but it still did the job. Featuring a sleek, understated design, the uniform was specifically designed for stealth missions, ensuring that Cap could fly under the radar while rescuing hostages. This uniform was also Cap’s choice for finding Thanos on Planet 0269-S.
Cap’s go-to uniform for specific missions can inspire brands to create event-based branding materials. Changing color schemes to celebrate Pride month or to honor national heroes like Martin Luther King Jr. are simple ways to engage in a larger conversation that impacts more than just your target audience.
Captain America: Civil War (2016)
We didn’t see Cap in his actual uniform for much of the film. Instead, we got lots of tight V-neck shirts and diplomatic meetings before holding onto a helicopter for one of the greatest scenes in the MCU. (I am not complaining.) The uniform stayed true to its roots with more slightly muted colors and paid tribute to the stealth suit used in Winter Soldier.
The underlying theme of this movie lies in loyalty. The final climactic conflict pits Captain America and his pal Bucky against Iron Man. Everyone picked their side, resulting in a truly epic battle at the airport. But in the end, Steve stayed loyal to his friend and what he believed was right. To quote Peggy Carter, “Even if the whole world is telling you to move, it is your duty to plant yourself like a tree, look them in the eye, and say, ‘No, you move.’”
I acknowledge this is slightly controversial, because as a brand, you want to be careful about burning bridges, especially when they helped you reach your current shoreline. See this an exercise in staying loyal to the customers you have while always trying to attract new ones. It costs twice as much to get a new customer versus keeping one you already have. Like Cap and Bucky who are together to the end of the line, stay with your customers, whatever it takes.
Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
When Cap returns post Civil-War and ready for what he hopes will be the final face-off with Thanos, his usual American spunk has been severely muted. Having spent time on the run, Cap has stripped his uniform of its classic silver star, and his usual mid-torso stripes have been replaced with grayed-out versions of the original. It’s a decidedly tough look, and certainly representative of the sense of defeat Cap feels once most of his comrades have been Snapped into oblivion.
But it’s not a look that can carry him through to his ultimate quest to save the universe. Without his trademark American spirit, Cap lacks the morale and the support to rid the world of evil. Again. Be careful that rebranding efforts aren’t focused solely on blending in, because without the unique traits that make your brand stand out, you’ll miss out on vital revenue streams.
Avengers: Endgame (2019)
A return to a more classic design was the perfect response to a world gripped by terror post-Snap. The stars and stripes are back in a big way, and help Cap as he and Iron Man lead the charge to rid the world of Thanos once and for all. But this particular uniform took it one step further by accentuating Cap’s, uh, assets more so than previous looks. Sometimes the best upgrades are the one that shows off what you’re already working with .
Your brand should highlight the best of what you’ve got to offer. Whether it’s your name, your tagline, your motto, or your logo, find your strengths and put these aspects on display. (We’ll see ourselves out.)
America has come a long way from its humble beginnings as a rebellious British colony. And we’ve still got a long way to go. Your brand may feel the same.
But take heart—with the right branding strategy, you can do this all day.