SaCRiFiCE To win over not just potential recruits, but also their parents and society at large, marketers for the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines are tapping into emotions and going digital
By christiNe BirKNer | STAFF WRITER
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The U.S. Marine Corps’ “Toward the Sounds of Chaos” campaign highlights the range of the Marines’ humantarian efforts. (Images in this story courtesy of the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines.)
he military is ever-present in the American cultural landscape, from troops and their commanding officers making front-page news, to Air Force planes zooming overhead at pro sporting events to video games like Call of Duty detailing the intricacies of combat. This is particularly true for the millennial generation, as the decade-long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan mean that today’s high school and college students barely remember a time when the United States wasn’t at war. The U.S. military, as a brand, is unlike any other. Its objectives shift based on the geopolitical climate, its employees often are required to put their lives at stake and its “CEO” is the president of the United States. Nonetheless, it’s still a brand and it markets itself like one. In 2012, the total military budget for advertising was $667 million and for the 2013 fiscal year, the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines all met or increased recruiting goals, according to the U.S. Department of Defense. The military, as an industry, has embarked on a number of successful campaigns.
Emotional Appeal In Advertising 101, you learn to categorize advertising messages into two camps: emotional appeals and rational appeals. More often than not, military marketing falls into the former, relying heavily on themes such as patriotism, responsibility,
self-improvement, and strength of both body and character. Such emotion-based messaging has been shown to resonate with younger target audiences, while rational appeals are wellsuited to older consumers. For the military, which targets the marketing sweet spot of 18- to 34-year-olds, emotional appeals are the chosen track. Uncle Sam has beckoned recruits on “I Want You” posters since World War I. After the military draft ended in 1973 and the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines became all-volunteer forces, they launched sophisticated marketing campaigns akin to those hawking CPG products. Iconic taglines such as the Marines’ “We’re looking for a few good men” and the Army’s “Be all you can be” boosted recruitment numbers in the 1970s and ’80s. Following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and at the start of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, patriotism was a major focus of military marketing efforts. “After 9/11, [recruiting] was actually easier. At that point, you turned people away because everyone wanted to fight terrorism. We came up with a theme, ‘Life, liberty and the pursuit of all who threaten it,’ really drawing on patriotism,” says Mark Simon, chief creative officer at Warren, Mich.-based Campbell Ewald, the Navy’s marketing and advertising agency of record. While patriotism remains an undercurrent in much military messaging, the Navy and other branches of the armed forces (each
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As it has done for decades, the Army includes educational opportunities and money to pay for college as selling points. “During the ‘Be All You Can Be’ campaign, there was a strategic effort to link Army service to opportunities and options that would accrue from that service. We wanted to own college as a category or a benefit and all of the research suggested that, compared to the other services, we did.” John Myers Army Marketing and Research Group
of which handles marketing initiatives separately, working both in-house and with outside agencies) have put a greater emphasis on how a career in the military will make potential recruits better people. One Navy print ad, for instance, shows a Navy scuba diver with the slogan, “Inspire the makers of action figures everywhere.” “Millennials want to belong to something that’s bigger than themselves. They want to effect change in the world,” Simon says. In the Navy’s marketing efforts, individuality also is an important concept, says Kathleen Donald, managing director at Campbell Ewald. “A lot of them want to know that they can lead the diverse lifestyle they’ve come to value.” On its website, the Navy includes sections emphasizing individual interests and abilities that will translate into Navy careers. If a recruit has a “mind for business,” the website says, she should consider business and legal careers in the Navy, and if a recruit enjoys the arts, he should consider a career as a Navy photographer, for instance. Beth Bailey, a professor at Temple University in Philadelphia who focuses on the history of gender, sexuality, war and military institutions in the U.S., and is the author of America’s Army: Making the All-Volunteer Force, says that the individuality concept has been prevalent in military marketing since the 1970s. “Research repeatedly found that one of the main things that young people worried about when joining the military, other than getting killed, was that they would lose their individuality. They wouldn’t be able to express their own opinions. That’s been a constant thing that advertisers have stressed.” In the early 1970s, for instance, to counteract perceptions that military service was all about buzz cuts and conformity, ads for the armed forces emphasized femininity, with pictures of women in dress uniforms with high heels and lipstick, Bailey says. “In the late 1970s, they started marketing equal opportunity. They were all about, ‘This might be your most
equal opportunity.’ For men, it continued on with the same kind of [message]: individual opportunity.” Going hand in hand with individuality, of course, is the concept of self-improvement, another common theme in the marketing strategies for every consumer-focused offering from beauty products to financial services. Many factions of the military promote opportunities for self-improvement such as getting physically and mentally stronger, becoming worldly and getting educated. The Army’s main marketing slogan, used in print, TV and Web ads, and other marketing collateral, is “Army Strong.” “Internal to the Army, [‘Army Strong’] is loved. People in the Army know that because they joined the Army, they are physically, mentally and emotionally stronger from the experience,” says Mark Davis, deputy assistant secretary of the Army for marketing, and director of the Army Marketing and Research Group (AMRG), based in Alexandria, Va., which oversees the Army’s marketing efforts. As it has done for decades, the Army includes educational opportunities and money to pay for college as selling points. “During the ‘Be All You Can Be’ campaign, there was a strategic effort to link Army service to opportunities and options that would accrue from that service. We wanted to own college as a category or a benefit and all of the research suggested that, compared to the other services, we did,” says John Myers, director of marketing at AMRG. Education is a big part of the value proposition for the Air Force, too—but with a more specific bent. Known for its ability to offer troops technical knowledge and hands-on experience, the Air Force tries to communicate in its marketing that “you get a great education at a cutting-edge company and it’s a great lifestyle. It’s about competing with the Googles and the
Command Center Alpha is a nationwide truck tour taking visitors through iPad simulations of Air Force missions.
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“How do you attract kids that spend 30% of their time playing video games every day? You make a video game. It teaches people not just about the assets of the Air Force, but also about all of the different careers that are in the Air Force.” Tom Gilmore GSD&M
Facebooks of the world,” says Tom Gilmore, senior vice president and group creative director at Austin, Tex.-based GSD&M, the Air Force’s marketing agency of record. On the career section of its website, the Air Force focuses on superlatives to show its advantages over civilian tech careers. Recruits will “operate the largest space program in the world,” and be “responsible for millions of dollars’ worth of equipment and thousands of lives.” One campaign, “We’ve Been Waiting for You” features TV ads with a teenage boy fixing a computer and a teenage girl observing a tornado growing up to be an Air Force airborne operations technician and Air Force storm mission specialist, respectively. “The message of ‘We’ve Been Waiting for You’ is we’ve been waiting for your special expertise,” Gilmore says.
HEalinG poWERS While some might be attracted to join the military for the inherent opportunities to better themselves, others want to join up to help their country or the world, which means that humanitarianism is a central theme for many military marketing messages. The military’s humanitarian message serves another purpose, as well, says Aaron O’Connell, assistant professor of the cultural history of the U.S. military at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., and author of Underdogs: The Making of the Modern Marine Corps. “You’ll see almost every service now has some kind of trope or image celebrating humanitarian service. This is done to present a benevolent narrative of military service, one quite separate from shooting and killing and dying. Of course that’s part of what the military does, but it’s a small part of what the military does. Overemphasizing the benevolent operations around the world probably tamps down some of the concern about the violence and danger of military life.” In 2012, the Marine Corps launched “Toward the Sounds of Chaos,” a campaign highlighting the diverse range of Marine Corps reconstruction efforts, natural disaster relief and peacekeeping missions around the world. “[Research] showed us that youth interests in helping others wherever they may be aligns with the Marine Corps’ legacy of service,” says Maj. John Caldwell, assistant chief of staff and national director of public affairs for the Marine Corps Recruiting Command in Quantico, Va. “The goal of the campaign is to authentically depict the
challenges and service that have always been integral parts of being a Marine, and highlighting the convergence between the values of the millennial generation with ours.” TV, print and digital ads, and ads shown in movie theaters before the trailers begin depict Marine helicopters, boats, tanks and troops, as well as trucks loaded with boxes marked “Aid” speeding toward smoke-filled, war-torn areas with screaming in the background. “They’re the first to move toward the sounds of tyranny, injustice and despair. … They are the few, the proud, the Marines,” a voiceover says, as the words “Which way would you run?” appear on screen. In its first month, the “Toward the Sounds of Chaos” campaign garnered more than 431 million total impressions, according to Caldwell. Similarly, the Navy’s current tagline is, “A global force for good,” and its ads and website emphasize the Navy’s involvement in combat and warfare support, as well as its role in keeping waterways open for global commerce, deterring sea piracy and drug trafficking, and conducting disaster relief missions. TV ads depict Navy boats touring a flooded neighborhood after a hurricane, with troops rescuing a small child. “Millennials want to make the world a better place and these are the things that resonate with them,” Donald says. “It’s about a reality that you’re going to be doing good. Being able to stop a terrorist like Osama Bin Laden is a good thing. Being able to help Indonesia after a tsunami is a good thing. That’s the approach.”
tHE mom FaCtoR Violence and danger are some of the military’s main marketing challenges, and throughout history, the institution has addressed the fears of violence and danger when marketing to recruits’ greatest influencers: their parents. “In the 1950s, the Marine Corps realized that their recruiting efforts were most often harmed by parents—and by mothers, in particular—and they designed recruiting narratives specifically to change the mind of the mothers. Recruiters have always done that; they’ve always recognized that they have two, maybe three audiences in potential enlistees, fathers and mothers,” O’Connell says. At the start of the Iraq war, military ads used imagery from World War II to put mothers at ease, Bailey says. “Research showed that the main reason young people didn’t join the military was because their mothers objected. It was to associate the move into Iraq with World War II, the ‘good war,’ heroic service and defending the nation. The ads showed the ways the military was good for young people, that parents didn’t have to worry about it.” In 2002 and 2003, the Army’s print and TV ads used the tagline: “Every generation has its heroes. This one is no different.” Today, the Internet and social media are major tools in marketing to parents. The Navy’s website, Navy for Moms, launched in 2008, serves as a forum for mothers of potential recruits to share stories and ask questions. More than 70,000 moms have uploaded more than 1,000 videos and 166,000 photos to the site as of February 2013, according to Campbell Ewald. “The mom’s instinct is to protect her child and she can start having her questions answered, not by the Navy … but by other moms who have been through this,” Donald says.
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Adds Simon: “It’s a recruitment-free zone. They’re not being sold on the thing. The Navy’s not right for everybody, so it goes back to wanting to arm people with the information they need to make the decision that’s right for them.” The Army takes a similar approach, running TV ads targeting parents and providing a forum for them in social media. In 2005, TV ads featured children returning from Army service having heart-to-heart talks with their parents about how the Army has changed them for the better. The Army’s website includes video testimonials from parents who discuss their fears about their children enlisting and their pride in them for doing so. “The value of influencers, as far as our ability to man the Army, is so fundamentally important that we almost think about it as second nature,” Myers says. “Those third-party conversations we have through social media, as well as the more traditional marketing channels, almost always have a consideration for speaking to parents. We have to not take for granted what parents understand about Army service because, in most cases, they don’t have a clue. Our ability to be transparent, open and candid about what it’s like to be a soldier is very important.”
pUttinG YoURSElF in tHEiR ComBat BootS That transparency, in the form of first-person narratives on social media, is crucial in marketing to recruits, too. “People want to understand what their job would be like. You can’t show up on a Navy base and look around. If you can talk to somebody who’s already a diver or a medical professional and find out what they do every day, [that helps]. Social tools allow that dialogue to happen,” Donald says. Adds Simon: “Our goal is to provide information that doesn’t exist otherwise. When you’re 17 or 18 years old, [joining the Navy] is a pretty big decision, so we try to provide people with the information they need to make it.” The Navy’s website offers a section about life as a sailor, covering boot camp, training, living arrangements and base amenities.
The Army’s website, Army Strong Stories, which has 1.5 million visits a month, as well as a mobile app and Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Flickr and YouTube pages, features solider blogs with first-person narratives. One blogger, 1st Lt. Kayley Nammari, offers tips on what to do during basic training, for example, and answers questions from potential recruits in the blog’s comment pages. “She’s a millennial and she speaks the language very directly and candidly to her fellow millennials, and that’s what we like to see happen,” Myers says. “[On] social media, we have soldiers speak for themselves about [dangers] and often a solider who’s engaged in a blog with someone who’s considering the Army brings that up. More often than not, they’ll say: ‘My training and the experience and leadership I get from those above me are very reassuring. There’s risk in every endeavor and Army service is no different, but we’re prepared for it.’ ” The Air Force takes the first-person concept a bit further with experiential efforts such as Command Center Alpha, a nationwide truck tour that takes visitors through iPad simulations of Air Force missions, and the Airman Challenge, an augmentedreality game on the Air Force’s website that lets players test their skills at satellite launches, embassy evacuations, humanitarian aid missions, and search and rescue operations. “How do you attract kids that spend 30% of their time playing video games every day? You make a video game. It teaches people not just about the assets of the Air Force, but also about all of the different careers that are in the Air Force,” Gilmore says. “You’re watching what the Air Force joystick pilots running predator drones are doing. The final statement is: ‘It’s not a game. It’s what we do every day.’ They’re saying, ‘The fun you get, the pleasure you get when you’re playing a video game may be reproduced as a career when you join the Air Force,’ ” O’Connell says. The Airman Challenge complements the Air Force’s “It’s Not Science Fiction” ads, which depict airmen in action-figure-like poses carrying out missions such as flying unmanned drones or clearing space debris, that increasingly appear in digital and
a militaRY FoR millEnnialS Millennials are a valuable target for many marketers and the military, with its recruitment targets ages 18 to 34, is no different. To recruit young people in the 1970s, the military developed personality profiles of its ideal troops and then marketed to recruits with the same traits. Its studies showed that “fighters” would be sports-oriented, sarcastic and spontaneous, according to Media & Values magazine. Today’s military takes a similar tack, developing marketing campaigns that resonate with values that are important to millennials: self-improvement, humanitarianism, and a quest for unique experiences and adventure. The military also focuses on the increasingly diverse U.S. population and millennials’ penchant for social and digital communication.
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“When we started presenting young women with other women who are in the Navy doing really exciting things, we had a phenomenal response. The same thing with the Hispanic community, reflecting that there’s a broad and diverse community within the Navy and there are people just like you.” Kathleen Donald Campbell Ewald
Davis says. “You don’t walk away from any market, ever. You focus on all of the markets. Diversity of thought makes you more successful and the Army needs all of these perspectives to be successful.” The Navy features ads celebrating Black History Month, as well as Spanish-language ads and ads featuring women, Donald says. “The Navy wants to have a diverse force because they know that they’re better if they have more perspective. When we started presenting young women with other women who are in the Navy doing really exciting things, we had a phenomenal response. The same thing with the Hispanic community, reflecting that there’s a broad and diverse community within the Navy and there are people just like you.”
all in mobile rather than traditional print and TV channels. “We have to be as cutting-edge as we can be. We need to stay ahead because that’s what kids are going to be attracted to,” Gilmore says. “Sixteen- to 24-year-old kids don’t watch TV. They spend most of their time on mobile or digital. In the last five years, we went from spending 70 to 80% of the advertising budget on TV and 25% on [mobile and digital], to 90% on [mobile and digital] and 10% on TV because we need to get kids where they are.”
looKinG FoR a FEW GooD WomEn, aFRiCan-amERiCanS anD HiSpaniCS Beyond appealing to millennials’ digital and social media savvy, the military also focuses its marketing on African-Americans, Hispanics and women. In November 2012, the Marine Corps launched “Fighting with Purpose,” a marketing effort to support the recruitment of a diverse officer corps. TV, print, digital and mobile ads tell the story of two Marine Corps officers, an AfricanAmerican man and a Hispanic woman, who carried out humanitarian missions abroad and returned home to give back through community service. “Investing in a diverse and representative officer corps will help generate and sustain a future force that has the cultural expertise, language skill sets and a variety of philosophies needed to meet the operational requirements of the Marine Corps,” Caldwell says. “Our survival, status and reputation depend on our relationship with the American people, and diversity broadens the base of support.” The campaign garnered more than 128 million media impressions through its first 30 days, according to Caldwell. The Army Strong Stories campaign also features female and African-American officers, and Spanish-language ads to attract Hispanics, “but it’s not about trying to tackle diverse groups,”
Facing page: The U.S. Air Force’s marketing efforts draw attention to the organization’s cutting-edge technology in an attempt to appeal to tech-oriented millennials.
Recruitment-wise, experts say that marketing efforts actually may get easier as the battles in Iraq and Afghanistan draw down (the size of the active-duty Army, for instance, is being sliced from 570,000 at the height of the Iraq war to 490,000 by 2017, according to the Associated Press). “Recruiting is probably going to get easier as the services are likely going to shrink,” O’Connell says. “The most important correlate to how well recruiting goes is the health of the civilian economy. The weaker it is, the easier it is to recruit.” Regardless of economic or geopolitical factors, the branches of the military are still focused on maintaining recruiting efforts and promoting their brands to society at large, building positive brand images and improving public perception. “As the drawdown happens [and] we’re no longer a nation at war, [the Navy] still has to stop piracy and keep sea lanes open, and we’re going to continue to need people who are willing to commit a portion of their life to that,” Donald says. For the Marines, the goal is to build on perception-boosting efforts that the institution has been working on for some time, Caldwell says. “Our message and supporting strategies have evolved over the years but remain fundamentally consistent. The prolonged period of conflict has provided credence to our messaging, [but we continue to] invite our nation’s youth to accept the challenge of being transformed into tough, smart, elite warriors.” In the Army’s case, Davis says: “Our goal right now is to make the Army a lot more transparent to the American people. If they see how we really do business and how we really are as an institution, the way we treat our soldiers and their families, they would be very proud of their Army.” Pride, patriotism, self-improvement and selflessness—military marketing themes resonate with many target audiences and the trick for military marketers is to express them well in everything from a print ad to a recruitment poster to an augmented-reality game, all with the goal of building the armed forces’ prestige and shoring up societal support. “Increasingly, it’s not just the potential recruit [that military marketers are targeting],” Bailey says, “but the broader society that has to endorse military service and hold it in high regard.” m
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