The U.S. military has one of the most respected brands in the country. The Defense Department drives one of the shiniest cars down Madison Avenue. It should be able to demand whatever it wants in its external advertising contracts with companies that want to work with American service members.
So why do the government and its marketers give troops away at a ridiculously low price to any sporting organization or beer company that wants to parade them as a prop for an event? In 2012, the National Football League donated $800,000 to three military-related non-profits as part of a Veterans Day Salute to Service. That amount is nothing but a rounding error on the billions that the league brings in throughout the year. Yet it gives the league carte blanche to integrate armed forces branding into its website, TV broadcasts and apparel.
It's not just the NFL. On February 17, the Defense Department released a statement, "DOD Works With NBA to Improve Troops' Transition Assistance." This implies that the basketball league sponsored a jobs program or scholarships for veterans. Instead, during the NBA's All Star Weekend "thousands of troops, veterans and family members were honored guests at events throughout the weekend, including concerts, visits from current and former NBA and WNBA players, on-court activities and the opportunity to attend the All-Star game itself." It's unclear how any of this helps troops better transition out of the military.
The one-sided military advertising agreements extend to more traditional marketers. In a Super Bowl placement, Anheuser Busch-InBev highlighted an officer in "A Hero's Welcome." You can see how the beer company benefits from dipping ads in national patriotism, but how exactly does the military?
The world's greatest Armed Forces does not allow itself to be pushed around in anything but corporate partnerships and advertising. It's unclear who supervises the overall branding strategy at the Department of Defense and the performance of its external agencies. Each branch of the military has separate advertising contracts, with the Army's deal with McCann Worldgroup the largest at nearly $200 million a year. In 2011, when the five-year deal with McCann was renewed, Ad Age reported that the agency would handle "all advertising, direct marketing and public relations for the Army. It will also be tasked to help support all recruitment and retention programs for the government unit."
In this time of fiscal austerity, it is imperative that the Department of Defense demand stronger performance from its agencies. The quality of advertising and marketing partnerships, as well as public-relations initiatives, should be commensurate with the military's status as a brand. Along with ads dedicated to recruitment, veterans need to be marketed as future employees and entrepreneurs, not props.
The U.S. armed forces are some of America's most precious assets. They should be valued as highly.