The Sailor's Pitch: Join The Navy And Assist The World

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor
Norfolk Virginian-Pilot
February 24, 2008 By Dale Eisman, The Virginian-Pilot
WASHINGTON--As their Army counterparts struggle to meet monthly recruiting goals, awarding huge cash bonuses and lowering educational standards to attract new soldiers, Navy recruiters say they might have found a powerful and distinctive sales pitch for the sea service.
In a multimillion-dollar television, radio and online ad campaign, the Navy is presenting itself largely as a humanitarian rather than a warfighting organization. Several of the ads give more emphasis to the Navy's prowess in delivering relief supplies than its ability to deliver bombs.
The TV spots include footage of Navy helicopters dropping food and medicine to survivors of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and plucking stranded New Orleans residents from their rooftops after Hurricane Katrina. One online ad invites recruits to "cruise the open seas, defend freedom, help the humanitarian cause."
The appeals, which began appearing about a year ago, seem to have struck a chord with what service officials call the "millennial generation" - people now in their late teens and early 20s. A Pentagon survey in the fall found the commercials have burnished the Navy's reputation with potential recruits, fueling a sharp jump in the number who see the Navy as an elite organization or view Navy service as "something to be proud of."
"Young people today are interested in being able to do something with a broad-based impact," said Kathleen Donald, an ad executive at Campbell-Ewald who helped develop the Navy campaign. "They want to be part of making the world a better place."
Because joining the military "intrinsically alters the course of a person's life," it's tougher to craft a successful recruiting ad than a commercial selling laundry detergent or soft drinks, Donald said.
The challenge is particularly acute in wartime, when parents and other "influencers" are most likely to be wary about seeing a young relative or friend join the military. "We have to help them walk through the decision-making process," she said.
The ads are "absolutely in the center of the bull's eye in terms of what would attract a lot of young people," said John Allen Williams, a political scientist at Loyola University Chicago.
A retired Navy reserve captain, Williams directs Loyola's Inter-University Seminar on Armed Forces and Society. Jesuit-run Loyola always has attracted students interested in public service, military or otherwise, Williams said, but he sees a passion for humanitarian work in many of today's students that wasn't so apparent in their predecessors.
But Marc Babej, who heads Reason Inc., a corporate strategy consulting company that helps clients plot ad campaigns, suspects something other than altruism might explain the campaign's success.
"One thing that's consistent across generations is, all other things being equal, most people prefer to go to the service where they're less likely to get shot," Babej said.
Right now, with the United States fighting land wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the "safe" service is the Navy, and the ads are designed to make the most of it, he said.
Two TV ads in the Navy's current rotation are at the center of the appeal. One, titled "Wave," shows a giant wave breaking and washing over the camera.
The screen goes black as a somber voice announces: "December 26, 2004, 7:59 a.m.: The sea delivers untold devastation to a huge area of southeast Asia." Then, as the water recedes and the camera reveals a swarm of Navy helicopters carrying bundles of supplies over the beach, the voice adds, "Soon after, it delivers something else."
A second ad, "Ribbons," features images of sailors at work during the tsunami relief effort, as well as in New Orleans and aboard the hospital ship Mercy during a 2006 humanitarian cruise in the Pacific. It ends with aerial footage of sailors lining the deck of the aircraft carrier Nimitz and an invitation: "If you want to make a difference in your world, spend some time in ours."
The Navy's approach contrasts sharply with those of the Army, Air Force and the Marine Corps. The Army's current "Army Strong" ad campaign puts a premium on the Army's ability to provide job training and build character. Much of the effort is directed at parents, traditionally a major influence on young people contemplating a military career.
The tag line at the end of several Army commercials is "You made them strong. We'll make them Army strong."
The Air Force's "Do something amazing" ads show airmen using some of the service's high-tech equipment, a big draw for potential recruits in their teens and early 20s.
The Marines are mostly sticking with their traditional emphasis - selling the Corps as an elite fighting force and challenging young people to see if they can meet its standards. One new Marine ad, however, takes a tack more like that of the Navy's campaign, showing a line of Marines stretching from an East Coast lighthouse to the Golden Gate Bridge.
The commercial's narrator speaks of Marines as "dedicated to a sense of honor, a sense of courage, and a commitment to something greater than themselves."
The Navy's current ads began appearing last year as the service was in the midst of developing a new "maritime strategy" that emphasizes the importance of humanitarian missions in building alliances around the world. The strategy has been widely interpreted as an attempt by Navy leaders to assert the service's relevance in the midst of land wars being fought mostly by the Army and Marines.
Donald and Capt. Tom Buterbaugh, advertising and marketing director for the Navy Recruiting Command, said the humanitarian-themed ads are intended to supplement rather than replace the Navy's traditional recruiting appeals.
Like the other military branches, the Navy still devotes a large share of its ad budget - which will total $186 million this year - to promoting the job training and college aid it provides. It also is continuing to run commercials that show off fighter aircraft, submarines and aircraft carriers as well as a variety of futuristic weapons.
Because Navy installations are located mostly along the coast, many potential recruits have little sense of the range of the service's missions, Buterbaugh said. The humanitarian ads are "designed to show the myriad of things we do," he said.