Army Drops ‘Army Strong’ for . . . Nothing

The nine-year-old 'Army Strong' ad campaign is ended.

dempsey-helicopter

The nine-year-old “Army Strong” campaign is ended.

Army Times (“Service ditches ‘Army Strong’ for new branding strategy“):

The service’s latest 60-second commercial debuted Monday, featuring black-and-white photos over stirring narration and music, offering glimpses of many aspects of service and sacrifice, and extolling the virtues of joining “the Army team.”

It ended without the “Army Strong” tagline — a phrase soldiers will continue to see in internal Army communications, but one that’s ended a nine-year run as the familiar face of Army branding after research showed civilians didn’t buy in.

“Our job is to market the Army [to the public],” Mark Davis, deputy assistant secretary of the Army for marketing and the director of the Army Marketing and Research Group, said in a Wednesday interview. ” ‘Army Strong’ just didn’t resonate with them. You’d either get an ‘eh’ sort of response, or you’d get an, ‘Of course you’re strong. You’re supposed to be. You’re in the Army. …’

“Everybody in the Army understands [‘Army Strong’] intuitively, because they’re a stronger human being for their experiences. People outside the Army didn’t get it.”

The tagline won’t be replaced, Davis said.

AMRG teamed with New York-based marketing firm McCann Worldgroup to create the spot, aiming to impress the civilian audience by presenting the Army as an elite team seeking new members because, as the narrator puts it, “there is important work to be done.” The message also played well internally, and with a group that may have been underserved by past Army marketing efforts.

“Veterans absolutely love it,” said Davis, a retired officer who left active duty in 2006 after a 25-year career that included a 2003 Iraq deployment and a Bronze Star Medal. “That’s a group of folks that have been a little disaffected from the Army, and we’re trying to bring them back into the fold.”

Keeping vets and active soldiers on board with the message holds greater importance in the age of social media, Davis said, as a disconnect likely would lead to those groups ripping any offending ad campaign to shreds on Reddit, Facebook or other social-media outlets, in full view of the target audience.

It’s somewhat amusing that people making sarcastic comments on social media was a major constraint but it’s a real concern in the current environment. There are millions of former soldiers out there, and we’ve got strong opinions about our service’s customs, traditions, and image. While I was sort of meh on “Army Strong,” I certainly ridiculed the previous “Army of One” campaign.  The non-replacement replacement looks pretty good:

Just because “Army Strong” is gone doesn’t mean new outreach efforts won’t include memorable phrases — a marketing must in a short-message, hashtag-happy social media environment.

One technique that’s gotten early online traction: Service members and veterans posing for black-and-white pictures, similar to the commercial, holding a sign with the words “I became a soldier” and the hashtags #ArmyTeam and #makingadifference.

Alongside those images, “we’ve been posting their stories,” said Crystal Deleon, AMRG’s social media manager. “Why they joined, what they did, what they think they did to make a difference while they were in.”

Some of those stories have been seen and shared by 200,000 people, Deleon said, “just because, I think, of that personal connection. … People read those and say, ‘That could be me.’ “

The other land component, the Marine Corps, has a much easier task in recruiting. It needs far fewer people and has a much stronger brand. You join the Marine Corps because you want to fight or because you want to be part of something elite. Because it’s much bigger and has a much more diverse mission, the Army has been all over the place in trying to sell itself over the years. While the Army has elite forces, it’s not an elite force—almost by definition. The pitch has thus been a combination of being part of something special (“Be all you can be!” and “We do more before 9 am than most people do all day!”) and about getting training and/or college money to be better prepared for life in the civilian world.

The campaign isn’t without its traditional elements: Expect to see the commercial during live sporting events, Davis said, as well as on 24,000 movie screens over the summer. The ad buy for the project, including some sponsored social-media placement, will be about $19 million, AMRG communications chief Ali Bettencourt said in an email.

And there is the matter of getting some screen time for generals: An image of Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, looking stoically out the window of a helicopter during a 2013 holiday tour of Afghanistan, appears at the 35-second mark — but not because of his prominent military post, Davis said.

“The truth is, most Americans don’t know who Gen. Dempsey is,” he added. “We kind of think everybody knows everything about us, and most Americans don’t know anything about the military. … It was chosen because of that look, that dramatic look.”

Dempsey is an impressive man and a model general officer. But one wonders how much an old man staring stoically out of a helicopter will appeal to 18-year-olds trying to make a decision about what to do next with their lives.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    “Army Strong” always felt kind redundant to me, but it was far better than the idiotic “Army of One”. That was a basic contradiction of everything the Army was (or any of the services for that matter), as being an army is basically a team sport.

  2. John Peabody says:

    The “Army of One” slogan announcement occurred the morning my unit (an Army band) was on lockdown for a 100% urinalysis. Bandsmen are a creative people; in less than two hours, we had created all the “Army of One” jokes you could think of.

  3. Tony W says:

    The old “Be all you can be” always felt Orwellian – I think this is a good move

  4. michael reynolds says:

    I suggested military service to both my kids. My daughter, 13 then, demanded assurances she’d get to shoot someone. My son’s reaction was basically, “So, join the army rather than have you pay my way through college? Nice try, old man.”

    Not sure what slogan would work on either of them. “Army! Now with 20% more killing!” might do it for my daughter.

  5. JKB says:

    Well, “Army Strong” does seem very aggressive and non-inclusive.

  6. Slugger says:

    The youth unemployment rate is 12%. Many of the employed young are getting pretty low wages. Many 20-30 year olds are living with parents including my nephew. The armed services should be booked solid with recruits.