When conflict puts military lives at stake, ads that promote money for college and job training fade to black.
That's what happened during Operation Desert Storm in 1991, after the attack on U.S. Army Rangers in Somalia in 1993 and the crash at Pope Air Force Base earlier this year. That likely will happen again with a U.S. invasion of Haiti.
Unlike during the Gulf War, when the services offered patriotic public service announcements, the military may lay low during a Haitian conflict because there has been little public support.
"If [the Haiti] operation goes, we would consider going dark with all TV advertising," said Lt. Col. Wayne White, the Army's chief of marketing and advertising. "We would hope it would be for a short duration-a week or 10 days-and start back up depending on the development of the operation. We would hope it would not be a prolonged absence like Desert Storm."
The threatened invasion comes as the military is in the midst of its heaviest fall ad schedule in years. Budgeted spending for military recruitment advertising is up 12% to $125 million for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, the first boost since 1989.
The Army's "Be all you can be" TV ads, from Young & Rubicam, New York, now air on college and professional football and youth-oriented prime-time shows. The Navy broke Sept. 12 a $10 million network and national cable recruitment campaign by BBDO Worldwide, New York, using humor to promote job training and money for college. The Marines hopes to break new TV spots in October from J. Walter Thompson USA, Atlanta.
The advertising buildup comes as the services have found it increasingly difficult to attract new recruits, despite meeting goals.
Only 10% of men 16-21 were inclined to join the Army in 1993, down from 16% in 1989, the military's youth attitude tracking survey found.
Lack of advertising is one of several reasons cited for the decline.
"As a result of right-sizing in all the military forces ... new recruits think the Army and Navy aren't hiring anymore," said Stephan Abel, the Navy's acting director of advertising. "It's like any product: If you don't advertise the product, people don't buy it."