Eight Points Regarding Traditional and Promotional Flags
I’m still on my low-tech kick over here, so let’s talk today about an item that, in various permutations, has been used for thousands of years and probably will be used for thousands more. Allow me to present the humble flag. We’ve all encountered one, in more places than we realize until we stop and actually think about it. Schools, state offices, and personal residences often have the country’s flag hanging outside, while more personalized versions can be found adorning businesses. This is especially noticeable in suburban commercial areas, where many stores will have a large flag or banner set up outside their building or parking lots, lining the streets with pennants in every color of the rainbow. And given the sizes that these flags are usually found in, they’re kind of hard to miss. I encounter them all the time as I’m driving towards the main shopping centers in my area, boldly proclaiming their various messages (usually about a sale that’s going on, which the bargain hunter in me is all for). It’s this prevalence, as well as my desire for things a little old fashioned lately, that spurred on this article. So buckle yourself in as I present the following eight facts about flags, sprinkled with a few additional tidbits about how these modern promotional flags are following in the traditions of the classics as well.
1. The first flags and banners were created to help militaries coordinate what was happening down on the battlefield. Over time, these message flags ended up evolving into the flags that we see today representing states, countries, corporations, and more. Flags are still used for signaling to various degrees as well, especially in maritime situations. Prior to the 18th century, country flags were primarily naval or military territory only, most people didn’t have them decorating their homes. Now, you’ll see the country flag on the outside of a store without any hesitation, and there’s a good chance a customized flag with the store’s logo will be placed nearby as well.
2. The oldest country flag design that’s still being used consistently today is the Dannebrog of Denmark, dating back to the 13th century.
3. Nepal is the only country whose flag does not have a traditional rectangular shape (although not the only official location where this is found – check out the state of Ohio’s flag as well as the one for the city of Tampa, Florida). The Nepalese flag resembles two triangles stacked on top of each other, actually. Seeing variety in flag shapes is also common in mass market and advertising flags, where the unique shapes are used as a way to catch customer attention from distances away. Some popular styles for promotional flags that aren’t the traditional rectangle design are teardrop and feather styles.
4. The largest flag in the world is the Brazilian state flag that’s been flying consistently in their capital city since the 1960s. Said flag measures 8740 square feet. Admittedly, most promotional flags are not quite that epic, although the 17 foot models that you can often spot at outdoor events are nothing to laugh at.
5. On many traditional flags, especially heraldic flags, every element worked into the design has a specific meaning, from the colors chosen to the animals shown, right down to the text bearing the family motto. While we don’t feature many of the same elements in everyday promotional flags (such as the ones found outside a restaurant or boutique) that they did back in the chivalric eras, we do use similar techniques to make sure that customers will stop – or at least take notice of the flags. Bright, primary colored backgrounds are eye-catching and also help to bring a friendly feeling to the display that puts customers at ease, while simple messages (in large, friendly letters no less, though I’ve never seen a flag that reads ‘Don’t Panic’) let anyone passing by get a better idea about what’s going on inside.
6. Someone who studies flags is called a vexillographer.
7. According to flag etiquette in the United States, once a federal flag has gone past the point of repair and is looking more than a bit beat up, it should be destroyed in a dignified and respectful way, such as being burned. No word on what the federal guidelines for disposing of promotional flags are, however. Luckily most flags are designed specifically for long term outdoor use, being made from such durable materials as polyester. They can stay outside in relatively inclement weather and still look pretty good the next day – and still be appealing to your customers. Weather stability does also depend on what sort of stand or pole you use to display your flag, which is especially important to consider if you possess a design that’s not able to be strung up on a traditional flagpole.
8. While she was a successful flag-maker in her own right there’s no solid, empirical evidence to prove that Betsy Ross actually sewed the first flag of the United States. The red, white, and blue colors of that first flag (shared by subsequent generations of American flags and many other countries across the planet) have been adopted for promotional flags as a way to get attention from people passing by. The white stripe in the center makes a clear and highly noticeable backdrop for any text that people want to add to their signs.
From everything I’ve discovered, one of the primary features of flags throughout the centuries has been to get attention from people. They were used that way on the battlefield, and now they’re used for that same purpose outside a shopping mall – a different sort of battlefield, really, but oddly similar. And although times have passed and the designs have changed to match, this simple effectiveness is why we keep coming back to promotional flags time and time again.