Uncle Sam Wants You, But Ads Target Mom, Dad

Uncle Sam Wants You, But Ads Target Mom, Dad
November 29th, 2007  
Team Infidel

Topic: Uncle Sam Wants You, But Ads Target Mom, Dad

Uncle Sam Wants You, But Ads Target Mom, Dad
Wall Street Journal
November 29, 2007
Pg. B1
By Yochi J. Dreazen
For the Army, it's out with "Be all you can be" and in with "Buy all you can buy."
The Army has been enlisting youths for decades by promising them money for college. Starting in January, it will try out a different sort of pitch in selected cities: offering up to $40,000 toward the purchase of a home or the creation of a business.
The new recruitment program, dubbed the "Army Advantage Fund," is meant to show parents and other adult "influencers" that Army service offers tangible benefits to young Americans. As the Iraq war continues, the Army is struggling to recruit enough new soldiers -- and such influencers are less and less likely to recommend military service to youths.
"If you want to get a soldier, you have to go through mom, and moms want to know what kind of future their children will have when they leave the Army," said Lt. Col. Jeff Sterling, the program's architect. "This is meant to answer that question in a tangible, concrete way."
The program is the latest sign of the military's growing use of marketing and other recruitment strategies from American corporations.
The Army's overall advertising budget has increased steadily in recent years, climbing to $174 million last year from $121 million in 2003 , according to TNS Media Intelligence, a New York research firm that tracks ad spending. The Army's ad budget is on pace to be even higher in 2007, according to TNS. A growing number of slick commercials touting military service air during National Football League games and other television programs popular among youths.
Taking a page from law firms and investment banks, the Army has already begun to offer hefty signing bonuses to recruits separate from the housing and business incentives. Those who sign on for four years of service can receive up to $40,000, with those willing to begin basic training within 30 days of signing their enlistment contracts receiving up to $20,000 more, depending on their specialty.
The aggressive marketing and large cash bonuses have helped the Army meet its recruiting goals, but barely. It missed its monthly targets earlier in the year, signing up 5,101 of the 5,500 recruits it wanted in May and 7,031 of the 8,400 recruits it sought for June. It exceeded its targets for the rest of the summer, however, recruiting 9,972 soldiers in July and 10,126 in August compared with goals of 9,750 and 9,600, respectively. The Army exceeded its overall goal of 80,000 for fiscal 2007 by recruiting 80,407 soldiers but only after allowing in a large number of recruits who had criminal records or who lacked high-school diplomas.
The recruiting strains are expected to grow in coming months, as the Army races to complete an expansion plan. Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently announced that the size of the active-duty Army would increase by tens of thousands of soldiers by 2010, two years earlier than planned.
Col. Sterling, who has a master's in business administration from Penn State, developed the idea for the Army Advantage Fund after reviewing internal Pentagon market-research data that showed a decline in the number of parents, teachers and coaches recommending the Army to youths.
According to a Defense Department market-research report, 23% of adults surveyed in June 2006 said they were likely to recommend Army service, compared to 36% in August 2003, shortly after the March 2003 invasion of Iraq. The report, by the Pentagon's Joint Advertising, Market Research and Studies division, attributed the decline "in large part to a fear that youth will face personal hardship, danger, and a lifestyle that is not attractive to them if they enlist."
The declines were likely to continue unless "something is done to improve the image and appeal of joining the military," it said.
Under the Army Advantage program, recruits signing on for three years will be eligible for a $25,000 payout. The total would rise to $35,000 for those willing to serve four years, and $40,000 for those committing to five. The soldiers would be eligible to receive the money as soon as they finish their initial Army service.
Col. Sterling said that soldiers wanting to put the money towards a mortgage would likely be asked to send paperwork showing they were in the process of actually buying a home, while those opting to use the money for a new business would be asked to show they had registered the company with state tax authorities. He said that soldiers would keep the money even if the deals fell through.
Military officials plan to market the new program by placing ads in magazines, radio shows and TV programs for older audiences. The Army has hired McCann Erickson Worldwide, a division of advertising giant Interpublic Group, to develop the advertising campaign. A McCann Erickson spokeswoman referred questions to the Army, which declined to provide examples of the advertisements.
"We know most 18-year-old kids don't think about mortgages yet," Lt. Gen. Michael Rochelle, the Army's deputy chief of staff for personnel, said recently. "We're going after the influencers."
The program, long in development, has sparked controversy inside and outside the Army. Many older officers and outside experts are uncomfortable with giving large financial incentives to join the military.
"When the military offers money for college, it specifically attracts the self-directed, ambitious people the Army most wants," said Cindy Williams, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who specializes in military-manpower issues. "This would seem to attract people who are already thinking about settling down and leaving the Army, which is a very different kind of person."
The Army had originally planned to roll out the program nationally, and early market-research projections suggested it would attract as many as 3,000 new recruits a year. Now the Army is going to make the program available in five cities -- Montgomery, Ala., Albany, N.Y., Seattle, San Antonio and Cleveland -- in what Col. Sterling called a "controlled experiment." The experiment is likely to draw, at most, a few hundred new recruits each year. If the test run does well, the effort is then expected to go national, he said.
Col. Sterling, who is retiring from the Army early next year to join the business world, said the new effort could eventually include other recruiting incentives, such as college funding for dependents of military personnel and money for health-savings accounts, tax-free programs that allow Americans to set aside money for future medical needs.
"In marketing terms, the Army's core product -- military service -- is a tough sell right now," he said. "That means the Army needs to develop new ways of reaching people. We need a new kind of competitive advantage."

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