Army's New Battle Cry Aims At Potential Recruits

November 9th, 2006  
Team Infidel

Topic: Army's New Battle Cry Aims At Potential Recruits

New York Times
November 9, 2006
By Stuart Elliott
A prized goal of Madison Avenue is to link a brand to a desirable quality or attribute: Ford trucks with toughness, Coca-Cola with refreshment, FedEx with reliability. Now comes a major effort from one of the oldest brands of all, the Army, to lay claim to the concept of strength.
“Army strong” is the theme of a campaign that the Army plans to announce formally today. The effort, with a budget estimated at $1.35 billion in the next five years, will appear in traditional media like television as well as nontraditional outlets like blogs, social networking Web sites and chat rooms.
The campaign is being produced by nine agencies, eight of them part of the McCann Worldgroup division of the Interpublic Group of Companies.
The Army is confronting the challenge of continuing to fill its ranks with recruits amid the war in Iraq. Since the war began, the Army has had the most difficulty of any branch of the armed forces in meeting recruitment quotas. “Army strong” is intended not only to appeal to potential recruits but to encourage soldiers to re-enlist.
“It reflects what’s built into the U.S. Army soldier,” said Lt. Gen. Robert L. Van Antwerp, commanding general of the Army accessions command, who oversees recruiting.
“There’s a strength built into you through training, teamwork,” he added, “and this kind of service makes a difference in your life.”
•McCann wrested the Army account last December from Leo Burnett Worldwide, part of the Publicis Groupe, which had handled the assignment since 2000. Burnett created the theme “An army of one,” which met with a less enthusiastic reaction than the long-running theme it replaced, “Be all you can be.”
The decision to adopt “Army strong” as a theme came as the Army made its recruiting goals for the 2006 fiscal year, which ended on Sept. 30, General Van Antwerp said. The change was not done out of necessity, he said, but because the new theme “resonated well with recruits, and extremely well with our Army.”
“Every soldier can stand up and tell you why they’re strong,” he said.
The Army announced the decision to change themes at a news conference last month. Afterward, some new commercials were quietly put up on the YouTube Web site, which is popular with the youthful target audience the Army is seeking.
The commercials, which will now run on television, depict actual soldiers and their families, as an announcer offers examples of what General Van Antwerp called the idea of “elevated strength.”
The announcer, the actor Josh Charles, begins by asserting, “There’s strong, and then there’s Army strong.” He continues: “It is not just the strength to obey, but the strength to command. Not just strength in numbers, the strength of brothers. Not just the strength to lift, the strength to raise. Not just the strength to get yourself over, the strength to get over yourself.”
Commercials that feature soldiers and their families take a similar tack. “You made them strong,” Mr. Charles declares, addressing the parents of potential recruits. “We’ll make them Army strong.”
Brand and corporate identity consultants offered mixed opinions on the approach. In wartime, an Army campaign “has to do more than recruit; it has to reaffirm,” said Jonah Disend, chief executive at Redscout, a brand strategy company.
The subtext is, ‘What does not kill you makes you stronger,’ ” he added, “and if you survive, you will be incredibly strong.”
Marc E. Babej, president of Reason Inc., a brand and corporate strategy consultant, said: “ ‘There’s strong, and then there’s Army strong’ has a sense of elitism. To me, that belongs more to the Marines, the few and the proud.”
On the other hand, Mr. Babej said, the new theme “certainly has more attitude than ‘Be all you can be,’ which may be attractive to those who are 18, 19, 20 years old” and considering joining the Army.
A video clip played at the news conference last month, illustrating what the “Army strong” campaign might look like, made indirect reference to Iraq. In one scene, for example, soldiers were glimpsed training in a desert setting. The video clip remains on but the new campaign, at least initially, will not address the war.
“We certainly didn’t want to avoid the subject,” said George Dewey, senior vice president and group creative director at McCann Erickson Worldwide, one agency working on the account. “There’s absolutely no avoiding it.”
“But we wanted to focus on the timeless qualities of the Army,” he added, like “the strengths you take away from being a soldier, which help us in the present conflict and help you live your life.”
General Van Antwerp said that additional parts of the campaign might reflect that “the likelihood you’re going to deploy” if you join the Army “is a fact.”
“It is a dangerous world, no question,” he said, adding that one of his three sons “is deployed right now and at one time all three were in Iraq.”
In addition to YouTube and a special Web site, (, the campaign will also be on the MySpace social networking Web site (, General Van Antwerp said. In September, the Air Force took down a profile it put up on MySpace, partly because of concerns about inappropriate content.
“We’re aware of that and we’ll keep an eye on it,” General Van Antwerp said, adding that it was worth the risk because “the Web has become an essential part of what we do” to reach younger Americans.
That strategy was endorsed by Drew Neisser, president and chief executive at the Renegade Marketing Group, part of Dentsu.
“Given the age of the target, it’s a no-brainer,” he said. “If you think of the chasm between the Army and its prospects, social networking is great at breaking that down.”
The other McCann Worldgroup agencies working on the campaign are: Casanova Pendrill, for efforts aimed at Hispanics; the I. W. Group, for Asian-Americans; Momentum, for sponsorships and event marketing; MRM Worldwide, for digital and direct marketing; NAS Recruitment, for medical recruiting; Universal McCann, for media planning and buying; and Weber Shandwick, for public relations.
The ninth agency is Carol H. Williams Advertising, for efforts aimed at potential black soldiers.

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