Video game, killing machine or great protector? The challenges of marketing the United States Army.
November 8, 2010
According to Adweek, the United States Army is down to four players in its search for a new advertising agency. Worth between 15 and 20 million dollars to the winner, the competing agencies are Draft FCB, Y&R, Grey and the incumbent, McCann Erickson. Big process driven agencies chasing a big process driven account, whichever one prevails, it won’t be a surprise.
I was at Leo Burnett when it picked up the army account in 2001. The agency had the tall order of replacing N W Ayer’s iconic “Be All You Can Be” campaign slogan, created in 1980. (For the record, I never worked on the account.) Burnett’s idea was “Army of One.” Arguably, not as good as BAYCB, it wasn’t a bust either. I do know Burnett excelled at putting the army onto the Internet, the importance of which should not be underestimated. The brief is, was and always will be about recruiting. Reaching young men and women online is key.
Presumably recruiting is easier during a bad economy. Conversely, it’s made harder by controversial wars such as the ones we are waging in Afghanistan and Iraq. Yet after 9-11, the resulting patriotic fervor made recruiting for these same wars a relative breeze. Needless to say, doors open and close. Marketing strategies must change accordingly.
No matter what your politics or person feelings, the armed forces pose unique marketing challenges. We feel for the troops but we grow weary of the wars. We appreciate the security our superior military affords us but we resent the responsibility. We adore the hi-tech but we abhor when it’s used for killing. Contradictions abound. Subsequently, the army brand is a volatile and moving target. Like nuclear power I suppose, helpful but also maligned: radioactive.
Among the various reasons given for leaving his post as the most famous creative in Adland, Alex Bogusky cited (or implied) ethical conflicts with two of his agency’s biggest clients: Dominoes and Burger King. I wonder what Alex, and others like him, would think about working on Army. Before answering, I would remind all of us that a successful voluntary army pre-empts the government from resorting to a draft. Food for thought all you twenty-something’s building gnarly campaigns at CP&B and elsewhere.
From a copywriter’s perspective, I’d relish the challenge of trying to crack the army’s difficult code. For me the winning strategy would be something along the lines of convincing young men and women to do the right thing even if it sometimes feels wrong. I might not believe the notion, but I know I could write and sell it.