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Army recruiting messages help keep Army rolling along

Slogans, along with recruiting posters, have been used by the Army since the earliest days to help fill its ranks.

By Mary Kate Chambers and David VergunBy Mary Kate Chambers and David Vergun

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Oct. 9, 2006) – Today’s announcement of the Army’s new advertising campaign – Army Strong – folllows earlier slogans of “Be All That You Can Be” and more recently “An Army of One,” to attract recruits into the all-volunteer Army.

Slogans, along with recruiting posters, have been used by the Army since the earliest days to help fill its ranks. After Congress voted to create the Continental Army on June 14, 1775, posters – also known as handbills and broadsides – were used to generate enthusiasm for service in the Revolutionary War. During the War of 1812, posters with more elaborate artwork were a popular means of enticing recruits.

Posters and patriotism continued to attract recruits during the war with Mexico and the Civil War. But Civil War posters didn’t quite lure enough individuals into the ranks, so both the Union and the Confederacy eventually turned to conscription. When President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, Union posters appeared enticing freed slaves to the call of duty. Many chose to serve, as they had in previous wars.

Newspapers gave extensive coverage of the sinking of the battleship USS Maine in Havana harbor in 1898, and when war broke out with Spain in the aftermath of the sinking, many joined the Army.

In 1917, shortly after America’s entry into World War I, Congress passed the Selective Service Act, authorizing the registration and draft of all able-bodied men between the ages of 21 and 30. Recruiting posters proliferated, as the Army still preferred to enlist willing volunteers, especially those with needed skills. Posters targeted recruits for the U.S. Army as well as for particular occupational specialties such as tanks, engineers and transport. The hit “Over There” also proved a popular patriotic song that served to boost enlistment. During World War I, perhaps the most popular recruiting poster ever produced was the “I Want You For the U.S. Army,” which featured an illustration of Uncle Sam pointing a finger at the viewer. The poster proved so popular that it was continued through the next big conflict – World War II.

A proliferation of colorful recruiting posters emerged in World War II, with the Army once again targeting particular occupational specialties like infantry, Women’s Army Corps, Signal Corps, Army Nurse Corps and the U.S. Army Air Forces. As in World War I, Congress found it necessary to instate the draft, as posters and other incentives were not quite enough to entice enlistees.

The draft continued through the Korean and Vietnam wars, along with posters and recruiting incentives like the G.I. Bill, enlistment bonuses and the opportunity to learn valuable technical skills. During this time period, African-Americans and other minorities were fully integrated into the armed forces and the services became much more representative of the general population. Also, a greater number of Army jobs were opened to women.

In 1971, near the end of the draft, the Army’s campaign was “Today’s Army Wants to Join You.” This was met with some opposition from Soldiers and veterans groups who were concerned that appealing to people to join the Army by using commercials, much like one would to sell them a consumer product, would attract people who were not well-suited for military service, resulting in a low-quality force. They said the ads leaned too heavily on monetary incentives and concessions and less on the warrior aspect.

When conscription ended in 1973, the Army introduced a tougher, more realistic cast to the service in “Join the People Who’ve Joined the Army,” a campaign developed by advertising agency N.W. Ayer. The agency worked with the Army from 1969 to 1987. Then, “This is the Army” was introduced in 1978.

From 1973 through 1976, the Army met its recruiting mission. However, in the late 1970s, budget cuts, elimination of the Vietnam-era GI Bill and the failure of entry-level pay to keep up with inflation were detrimental to Army recruiting. In 1979, the service missed the mission by more than 17,000. Gen. Edward “Shy” Meyer, then chief of staff, told Congress that the Army was a “hollow” organization.

To begin to turn things around, the Army brought back two-year enlistments and advertising and recruiter support funds were restored. A big shot in the arm came from the assignment of then Maj. Gen. Maxwell Thurman as commanding general of Recruiting Command. He led an overhaul of management structure and command and control systems and implemented a more precise recruiter mission methodology.

In January 1981 “Be All You Can Be” became the Army’s catchphrase. The jingle that went along with it was so popular and effective that Advertising Age magazine listed it as the number two refrain of the 20th century. The motto propelled the Army though the 1980s, but by the mid-1990s, a robust economy resulted in a new recruiting climate. Youth propensity to serve dropped. Ad agency Young and Rubicam, which had gained the Army account in 1987, tried to build on the campaign, but by 2000, it was felt that “Be All You Can Be” no longer resonated. Leo Burnett, an agency based in Chicago, was contracted and developed a new advertising strategy. In January 2001, “An Army of One” debuted. It targeted high-quality prospects and drove them to and to the 800 recruiting phone number.

Initially, many argued that “An Army of One” slogan worked against the teamwork approach in the Army. But Army leaders said that criticism neglected other positive elements of the campaign, and that the slogan didn’t stand alone.

New to this campaign was a push toward the Hispanic market, with Spanish-language advertisements featuring the tagline: Yo Soy el Army. Additionally, TV ads were aired that appealed to a more information technology savvy youth and later, America’s Army Game, a popular video game, was made available as a free Internet download. Lastly, the Army sponsored NASCAR, hot rod, and professional bull-riding teams, with the Army logo emblazoned on the team uniforms and vehicles.

During the current war on terror, a “call to duty” emphasis has once again resonated with youth, as it has for generations of Americans.

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