War puts damper on Army minority recruitment

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The U.S. Army is adjusting its marketing pitch to minorities as the war in Iraq hurts recruiting efforts among Hispanics and, especially, African-Americans.

African-American and Hispanic youth are more concerned than whites about ending up in combat, "particularly for a cause they don't support," according to a presentation by Lt. Col. John Keeter of the U.S. Army Accessions Command at a December meeting of recruiting researchers. Moreover, minority prospects "have strong concerns relating to mistrust of the military and recruiters."

Among African-Americans, "research has shown that a lack of perceived legitimacy of the war in Iraq has contributed to a resistance to join the military generally, and the Army specifically, as well as Army ROTC," according to the presentation.

To address these issues the Army is "applying the learnings we've gathered from segmentation research to deliver a tighter message and more specific message" against each segment, Col. Thomas Nickerson, director-strategic outreach for the Accessions Command, said in an interview. The research will factor into advertising still in development that breaks starting in the April.

The Army is always adjusting messages based on research and any new changes would be evolutionary rather than a radical departure, Col. Nickerson said.

But changing recruiting pitches is unlikely to win over prospects and parents concerned about Iraq, said Peter Feaver, a professor of political science at Duke University and director of the Triangle Institute for Security Studies. "If the problem is Iraq, there's not much in the short run that the Army recruiters can do about it," he said. If Iraq improves, the problem could be "transitory."

Publicis Groupe's Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, is the Army's general agency, although the account is now in review. Muse Cordero Chen & Partners, Los Angeles, handles African-American work and Cartel Creativo, San Antonio, handles Hispanic advertising. Vital Marketing Group, New York, is the African-American events marketing agency.

Broadly speaking, the Army will continue to maintain a minority presence in general-market advertising, craft minority-specific messages, emphasize events and promotions and try to find ways to increase the rate at which leads become recruits.

In a departure, the Army will focus Spanish-language messages at parents and "influencers." It previously targeted prospects as well, but they consume more English media.

The Army is slightly ahead of its recruiting goal for the year started Oct. 1. As of Jan. 31, it signed up 22,248 recruits, 113 more than its mission. But it still faces challenges beyond minority recruiting.

Overall, the propensity of young adults to enlist in the military has "softened," according to a presentation given by Army demographer Kevin Lyman at the December conference.

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But the Army's obstacles are greatest among minority prospects-and their parents. African-American and Hispanic parents have less trust in the military than whites. Fully 32% of African-American parents would oppose their child joining the military, according to Lt. Col. Keeter's presentation.

As of Feb. 9, the proportion of African-American and Hispanic recruits are below both recent historic levels and their share of the qualified age market targeted by the Army.

African-Americans accounted for 13.9% of active Army recruits as of Feb. 9 compared to 15.9% for all of fiscal 2004 and 14.3% of the qualified age market. Hispanics accounted for 12.8% of recruits, compared to 13% in fiscal 2004 and 13.2% of the qualified age market.

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