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Move over Tony Robbins and Suzanne Sommers, a new infomercial is battling for the attention of insomniacs.

The U.S. Navy sails into late night this week with a 30-minute ad hawking the virtues of military service. The first-ever infomercial for any branch of the armed forces, it's part of an overall marketing push to buoy sagging enlistments.

That includes a concurrent ad campaign from BBDO Worldwide, New York, which subcontracted the project to Spike Lee's 40 Acres & Mule production company. Five documentary-style spots are themed "Let the journey begin." They will run on cable and network TV, including major National Football League and National Basketball Association games.

For the infomercial, the Navy, which spends $65 million annually on advertising, turned to its direct marketing shop.


The genesis of the long-format idea came two months ago, when the Navy began promoting a free video in place of a booklet on its 60-second direct-response TV spots.

"There's only so much information you can provide in a 30- to 60-second spot," said Lt. Steve Zip of the U.S. Navy Recruiting Command.

The ad from Rapp Collins Worldwide, New York, has a distinct documentary style, and features interviews shot at various locations with Navy Seals, radar operators and photographers.

"Rather than just show people in uniform doing jobs you'd expect them to do, we wanted to pull back the curtain and show exactly what they do and tell things about them that you might not imagine," said Bill Whitney, associate creative director for Rapp Collins.

The goal of the Navy's direct-marketing efforts through mail, the Internet and short- and long-form direct-response TV is to generate leads for recruitment. Its annual enlistments are consistently 200,000 higher than the U.S. Marine Corps, but 100,000 lower than the U.S. Army.

According to the Navy, 1999 enlistments (including officers) are at 365,886 compared to 381,203 last year.


"Our main mission this year is to get more and better information to that [18-to-25-year-old] marketplace," said Mr. Whitney.

The infomercial, which features hip techno-style music, is divided into three portions with interviews and comments from Navy recruits and officers, and a call to action for "your free video" sandwiched between each part.

Direct-response production, media planning and placement were handled by Hawthorne Direct, Fairfield, Iowa. Leo Zanis, an art director from Rapp Collins, collaborated with writer Perri Feuer from Hawthorne Direct.

Results from the initial run of the infomercial are expected by the end of June.

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