CHICAGO – When Americans met their finger-pointing Uncle Sam during World War I, advertising became a linchpin of military recruiting almost overnight. Now with U.S. soldiers fighting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and recruiters struggling to sign up enlistees, the Army has added a new pitch.
The Army is no longer just an “Army of One”; it’s looking for a few good parents.
A new series of television ads aims to get parents to “Help them find their strength” and not stand in the way of their children signing up. One such commercial begins with a teenager telling his mother he’s found a way to pay for his college education. When he reveals that the answer is the military, she becomes skeptical.
“Go on,” she says cautiously.
“I already checked them out,” he says, trying to dissolve her disapproving glare. “And I can get training in about any field I want.
“And besides, it’s time for me to be the man.”
Satisfied, she smiles. “OK, tell me more.”
With the Army unlikely to meet its annual recruiting goals this fiscal year, such scenes taking place at kitchen tables across the United States would be welcome music to military brass. This ad, titled “Dinner Conversation,” is one of four the Army is running thousands of times this summer that targets parents who are increasingly wary of having their children in the armed forces during wartime.
All the ads show young men in discussions with parents who are skeptical of the Army’s benefits – an often true-to-life situation, according to Army officials who say individuals with influence such as parents, teachers and coaches are now 10 percent less likely to recommend military service than in the past.
A Department of Defense survey last November found that only about one in four parents would recommend military service to their children.
The ads, collectively known at the Army as the Influencer group, were created by Chicago-based advertising firm Leo Burnett USA and began running in April. Since then, the Army has tripled their visibility, and the ads will run approximately 4,000 times from July until September.
“We vastly increased our media buy to support this campaign and to encourage an informed dialogue between parents and prospects,” said Louise Eaton, chief of the media and Web branch within the Army’s Accession Command.
Focus groups and Army recruiters told Leo Burnett USA that parents and other influencers still play an important role in the decision to enlist, said the firm’s Ray DeThorne. “I think that when we’re at war it magnifies what the ultimate cost of war could be. It’s a big decision – the minimum you can enlist is 15 months. We at least want the parent to be willing to listen to that conversation.”