Military Advertising

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Modern military advertising, in the form of national campaigns initiated and funded by the government, emerged for the first time during World War I as Great Britain and the U.S., in particular, sought to draw public support for the war.

To buttress the image of their militaries, each country established new government agencies to work with its military branches. In 1917, Britain created the Ministry of Information and the Enemy Propaganda Department. That same year in the U.S., President Woodrow Wilson established the Committee on Public Information.

Because the war in Europe did not directly affect most Americans, the U.S. government faced the difficult task of persuading its citizens to support the war effort. CPI began urging enlistment in the Army and Navy, while asking those not eligible for service to buy Liberty Bonds, join the war production effort and be wary of spies and traitors. N.W. Ayer & Son developed the ad campaigns for the first three Liberty Loan drives. CPI published 75 million pamphlets, 6,000 press releases and 14,000 drawings in support of the war effort.

Artist James Montgomery Flagg joined the U.S. Division of Pictorial Publicity, where he created the most famous recruitment poster of the period: "I Want You for U.S. Army," depicting Uncle Sam pointing a finger at every able-bodied American male. In a more subtle approach, a Navy Publicity Bureau poster by artist Howard Chandler Christy featured a fetching young woman in a sailor suit, coyly wishing she were a man so she could join the Navy.

In May 1917, Congress passed the Selective Service Act, creating a draft that registered 24 million men and supplied 60% of the nearly 5 million American men who served during World War I. The effective propaganda campaign that supported it established virtually total acceptance of the draft, the nation's support for its soldiers and a common sense of purpose behind the country's involvement in the war.

Preparing for World War II

In 1939, as Europe faced a second world war, Britain saw much greater resistance than it had some 20 years earlier; its efforts to build support for World War I had backfired in the long run, as the British public discovered its government had misrepresented conditions on the front lines and fabricated accounts of the enemy.

The U.S. also faced resistance from many of its citizens, who saw little reason to get involved in another foreign war. However, in 1940, with Hitler's aggressive expansion unchecked and the threat of a war in the Pacific, Congress passed the Selective Service & Training Act, establishing the country's first peacetime draft. With that, the U.S. Army began a recruiting effort that would for the first time include the efforts of a major ad agency—Ayer. Public sentiment toward the war underwent an about-face after Dec. 7, 1941, with Japan's surprise attack on U.S. forces stationed at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.

In 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt organized the War Advertising Council with the American Association of Advertising Agencies and the Association of National Advertisers. The council mustered $350 million in free public service messages promoting the purchase of war bonds, the need to keep sensitive information from the country's enemies and the importance of women to the war effort at home. It was to promote the latter that the famous "Rosie the Riveter" icon was created.

The Ad Council, as it was later known, was so successful that President Roosevelt asked it to continue administering public service messages after the war.

Print, radio and feature films were used to promote the war effort both at home and at the front. In 1942, movie director Frank Capra joined the U.S. Army Signal Corps, where he produced an Oscar-winning, seven-film documentary series, "Why We Fight," to convince Americans of the threat posed by the Axis powers and encourage the country to enter World War II.

While the U.S. government intervened in the nation's media much less than it had during World War I, the U.S. War Department's own publications and training literature promoted patriotism and presented distorted images of the enemy. In all, the Ad Council estimated that the U.S. advertising industry donated approximately $1 billion to the war effort in work done and space contributed.

After losing the National Guard to Gardner Advertising in 1947, Ayer saw the U.S. Army account follow it in 1948. But after the business was given to Gardner, the account became inactive, and Gardner resigned the Army and National Guard business within a year. Grant Advertising won those accounts.

In 1948, Army billings and fees grew to $4.5 million, making Army advertising a major piece of business for an ad agency.

As World War II ended, soldiers returned home. In the early 1950s, Britain gave up the draft in favor of voluntary enlistment but the U.S. retained the draft for another 20 years. In 1952, with the war in Korea still under way, Congress passed legislation to freeze funds destined for recruitment advertising since recruits were available through the draft.

Over the next several years, however, budgets were cautiously restored, particularly to encourage re-enlistment and for recruitment of specialists and women, mostly in medical posts. But overall the U.S. government showed a general weariness toward advertising for the military.

According to the "Standard Directory of Advertising Agencies" (1950), the Army worked briefly with J. Walter Thompson Co. at mid-century, while National Guard recruiting was shared by Cecil & Presbrey and Fletcher Richard. In 1952, the consolidated Army and Air Force recruiting business moved to Dancer-Fitzgerald-Sample. In 1954, the Air Force business moved again, to Ruthrauff & Ryan, but the Army remained at DFS for several years before going in-house, then back to Ayer in the 1960s. The Navy began using paid advertising in the 1960s via MacManus, John & Adams.

The Vietnam years

In the early 1960s, the U.S. found itself increasingly involved in the ongoing military conflict in Vietnam, but the government did not launch a specific ad campaign to gain public support for military action in Southeast Asia.

In 1967, however, faced with declining public support, the U.S. government started a public relations campaign that claimed progress toward an eventual victory. In 1971, a Yale political activist launched an antiwar campaign called "Unsell" with the aid of some within the advertising industry. Maxwell Dane joined Jim McCaffrey and David McCall of McCaffrey & McCall to work on the effort, and the campaign won a Clio award in 1972.

In the early 1970s, the U.S. military stepped up its recruitment efforts, first to offset a decision to decrease draft calls, then to replace recruits lost from the draft, which was ended in 1973. Military ad budgets grew steadily, and the Army—which consistently had the largest recruiting ad budget of the military's five main branches—grew from less than $2 million in the mid-1960s to $35 million in 1974. Recruiting at the time made up 75% of the government's total advertising expenditures. JWT handled the Marines; D'Arcy, MacManus & Masius, the Air Force; Grey Advertising and Ted Bates & Co., the Navy; and Ayer, the Army.

Recruitment efforts were hindered by ad budget cuts in the late 1970s when congressional critics attacked the usefulness of recruitment advertising efforts. The five major military branches were pushed to accept a new corporate-type joint advertising campaign to cut costs. Campaigns were designed to provide a better general understanding of the services while paving the way for continued individual recruiting efforts. The initial slogan, "A chance to serve, a chance to learn," was soon replaced with a new theme, "Armed Forces. It's a great place to start."

In late December 1976, the Marine Corps targeted youth unhappy with low-prestige job options in the private sector with a TV campaign from JWT based on the theme "The few. The proud. The Marines." The Army and Navy were on radio at the same time, with "Join the people who've joined the army" and "It's not just a job, it's an adventure," respectively, from N.W. Ayer ABH and Bates.

"Be All That You Can Be"

With the advent of the 1980s and the election of Republican Ronald Reagan as president, more government money was allocated to defense spending, including military recruitment efforts. The military turned to TV for the majority of its ad spending, seeing it as the most efficient vehicle for reaching teens. In 1981, the most memorable slogan of the modern military, "Be all that you can be," was created for the army by Ayer.

Other recruiting efforts targeted the advantages of individual services. The Navy's long-term slogan, "Live the adventure," and 1989 theme, "You and the Navy: Full speed ahead," promoted travel opportunities via BBDO, New York. The marines' "Swords" campaign, created in 1984 by JWT, glorified the prestige of being a Marine while quieting fears that military advertising was sidestepping the importance of "duty, honor and country."

In the final decade of the 20th century, the various services worked to redefine the role of the military for the post-Cold War era, the end of the arms race and the new threats of terrorism. One major challenge facing recruiters and ad agencies was teens' lack of interest in enlisting-owing in part to decreased military advertising during the 1990s.

Entering the 21st century, the military went after fresh, integrated and smart campaigns backed by new market research that had showed current military "brand names" to be incompatible with what modern youth wanted.

In 2000, the Navy hired Warren, Mich.-based Campbell-Ewald for its $30 million account; the agency introduced the theme, "Accelerate your life," replacing, "Let the journey begin." At the same time, the Air Force awarded its $50 million account to GSD&M, Austin, Texas. New ads used the theme "Cross into the blue."

In 2001, the Army replaced "Be All That You Can Be" with a new campaign from Leo Burnett Worldwide, Chicago, which won the account the previous year. Burnett's campaign used the new theme, "An army of one," which appealed to the challenges America's youth were seeking. The spots also emphasized the personal and trade skills young people learn in military service.

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