ARMY RECRUITS LAME UPDATE FOR LONG-RUNNING CAMPAIGN

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Of all the inspiring and emotional U.S. Army commercials done in the past 15 years, the one that really jolted the AdReview staff featured two soldiers on a tank, just after dawn, bright-eyed and bushytailed and raring to practice crushing the former Soviet Union.

"In the Army," said the voice-over, "we do more before 9 a.m. than most people do all day." That thought resounded with us, inasmuch as many a 9 a.m. comes and goes and all we've accomplished is depositing a puddle of drool on our pillow.

Yet we didn't resent being reminded of our sloth, partly because the Army worded the message with a positive spin, versus, say, "Yo, you slobbering and pathetic slug, haul your lazy butt out of bed." No, instead of wallowing in recrimination, the recruiters dwelled on possibilities. The glory years of Army advertising produced magnificent tributes to human spirit and potential.

"Be all you can be," was the proposition. If not for your country, if not for your self-esteem, then at least for your pillowcases.

Alas, those eager-beaver armor charmers in the ad never got to tread on Communism, because Communism did a tank job on itself. Then Iraq decided to rape and Saddamize its neighbor, and our early-risers finally were unleashed to preserve petrotocracy-but with that, the end of an era.

The Army has downsized so rapidly that the entire U.S. presence in Europe now meets for maneuvers in the parking lot of the Wiesbaden Halt 'n' Gehen. And the soldier's role, "peacekeeping" in Haiti and Somalia under emasculating rules of engagement, has lost some of its rough-hewn glamour. In such an environment, join-up advertising has narrowed its appeal, as well.

"This isn't Hollywood. This is the Army .*.*. " begins the first recruitment spot in four years from Young & Rubicam, New York, narrated by a flesh-and-blood soldier crouched before a computer-animated tank, battlefield and cloudy sky. Hollywood? These graphics look like they're out of a 50 cents arcade game.

"... A place that prepares you to think, to act, to be a part of the real world [now the fake-looking stuff transforms into a real tank and battlefield], a world where change is rapid, where technology keeps expanding. By the year 2000, there will be as many computers as people, [a helicopter morphs into an animated helicopter, landing on an electronic contour map], so get ready for tomorrow in the high-tech Army of today. Because we've already begun the 21st century in America's Army."

Never mind that the futuristic Hollywood effects they're trotting out are lackluster and dated-looking, like warmed over "War Games" footage from the early '80s. And never mind that there's nothing explaining why an Army hitch beats two years at DeVry, where there's plenty of career training and almost no chance of being shipped to Croatia.

What's truly missing here is emotional relevance. Two lyric-less bars of "Be all you can be" are all that remains of the campaign that never mentioned duty or honor or patriotism, yet nonetheless glorified them while making a three-year enlistment seem like a gift to yourself. This new all-rational approach, by contrast, is soulless and mercenary.

The message for the next century? In effect: "Be ..... all that we can buy ..... in the Arrrrr-me."

Ad Age Bulletin Board on Prodigy, or by Prodigy e-mail at EFPB35A.

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