Army ad historian says 'Army Strong' campaign may face uphill battle
As the Army gears up to launch its new ad campaign and slogan — “Army Strong” — military advertising expert Beth Bailey says the campaign reflects the realities of an all-volunteer armed services: applying extremely sophisticated market research, and spending $200 million to recruit the 80,000 soldiers needed annually during an unpopular war in Iraq.
“They’ve got a very difficult task,” said Bailey, a history professor at Temple who’s writing a book about armed services advertising during the all-volunteer era, which began in 1973.
“The Army never asked for an all-volunteer Army in the first place, but by and large the people in charge of advertising and marketing try to be honorable in the way they deploy their tools.”
The Army’s new slogan is a link to one of its most enduring taglines — “Be All You Can Be” — while closing the book on a slogan top brass never thought much of in the first place, “Army of One.”
“The Army did not like ‘Army of One,’” said Bailey, who has interviewed generals and advertising agency CEOs alike for her book, To Be All You Can Be. “It went against the core beliefs about why you become a soldier.”
Bailey said the Army has always been the hardest military branch to draw recruits from. The Marines’ slogan — “The Few, the Proud” — hasn’t changed for years, and has proven effective.
The Air Force offers the prospect of flying, or at least of using high-tech equipment. The Navy, Bailey said, is far enough away from the action in Iraq to ease fears of recruits and their parents, while the Army “ranks at the bottom in terms of perception, and needs to recruit the most people.”
That wouldn’t be so hard, Bailey said, were it not for “the biggest impediment to getting people to join the military: parents, specifically mothers.”
Since the armed forces went all-volunteer in 1973, there have been ebbs and flows in recruiting tactics and campaigns. Recruiting during peacetime has proven to be relatively easy, with ads focusing on acquiring transferable skills and money for college.
After 9/11, themes in military advertising changed, with appeals to patriotism that also were effective. But, a long-lasting, increasingly unpopular war has made recruiting an all-volunteer military much harder. How to make it easier? Bailey says new slogans will only go so far.
“Not to have wars of choice would be one way,” she said. “It wouldn’t be difficult finding volunteers if the wars we were fighting were ones in which the nation’s safety was at stake.”
With the war in Iraq resulting in difficulties maintaining the entry standards for an all-volunteer Army, some have suggested the timing is right for a return to a military draft that would spread the burden and sacrifice of war to all segments of society. Bailey said she doesn’t think the budget exists to absorb all male and female high school graduates in a given year for military service, and establishing a fair lottery system to determine who would serve if not all are needed would likely be a rancorous process.
Besides, the military doesn’t want a draft anyway, “because they don’t want people who can’t do anything else.”
“They get relatively talented young people, from primarily rural areas, where there are limited opportunities,” Bailey said. “That’s who’s dying in Iraq.”