By DOUGLAS QUENQUA
Published: August 2, 2009
AFTER three straight years of growth helped in part by a sagging
job market the Army is starting to find itself a bit bottom heavy,
swollen with young recruits but short on officers to lead them.
Starting Monday, it is hoping a fresh promotional effort can reverse that.
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For the first time in its history, the Army is introducing an
advertising campaign to recruit officers. The ads in many ways
resemble the force's mainstream recruitment effort camouflaged
soldiers carrying big guns and standing at attention, with patriotic
music as the soundtrack but have been tweaked to appeal to
achievement-oriented college graduates who could qualify for one of
its officer training programs.
For example, two of the TV commercials could be mistaken for ads from
I.B.M. or Accenture until the Army's signature music chimes in about
halfway through. Another shows pictures of famous generals like
George Washington, Douglas MacArthur and Colin Powell, while a
voice-over says, "Officers in the U.S. Army can rise to any
challenge. Can you?"
The goals are to attract ambitious young Americans who might normally
consider the Army beneath their career objectives and give the Army a
jolt of much-needed creative leadership.
"It's a tough environment out there," said Lt. Gen. Benjamin C.
Freakley, head of the Army Accessions Command, which oversees
recruiting. "It's no longer where the enemy lines up on one side of
the field and the coalition lines up on the other side and the
referee blows the whistle. It's a very complicated battlefield to
figure out, and there are no referees.
"It is a different era, and it requires a different kind of thinker," he said.
The Army's growing pains are reflected in its recruitment statistics.
The force has expanded by more than 50,000 troops since 2005,
reaching 544,000 at the end of 2008. And last month, the defense
secretary, Robert M. Gates, announced his intention to add 22,000
troops in the next year. The expansion of the Army has come in
response to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that taxed the scaled-back
force that emerged from the 1990s.
But some of that growth can be attributed to relaxed standards. Only
83 percent of new recruits in 2008 held a high school diploma,
missing the Army's goal of 90 percent for the third consecutive year.
A growing percentage of new recruits during that time have also been
scoring in the lowest acceptable range on the Army's vocational aptitude test.
So while the force is meeting or exceeding its goals in terms of pure
numbers, it is falling short in its search for men and women
qualified to lead their peers.
"The economic downturn has made it really easy for the Army to
recruit in recent years, and that was a big surprise to people who
thought a big shooting war would discourage people from signing up in
the first place," said Loren B. Thompson, a defense analyst with the
Lexington Institute, a research organization. "But because of changes
in threats and shifts in domestic demographics, the military is
looking for a different type of officer today than what it was
seeking in the past, and that requires special recruiting efforts."
Four TV commercials will provide the public face of the campaign, all
of which begin running Monday. The two that slowly reveal themselves
to be Army ads tell the story of high-ranking corporate executives
with experience as Army officers: Joseph DePinto, chief executive of
7-Eleven; and Otto Padron, a senior vice president at Univision.
"We learned through research that when the 'Army Strong' music came
on in that first second of the commercial, those achievement-oriented
students would reject it because they would think it was not for
them," said George Dewey, executive creative director at McCann
Erickson, the Army's creative agency. "When these kids find out that
the Army has produced these superstars, it's an 'aha' moment for them."
That is also the thinking behind an ad that features George
Washington and Colin Powell. The final ad, which more closely
resembles a typical Army commercial, features a current officer
explaining his decision to join the R.O.T.C.
The TV ads will mostly run during the same programs as the mainstream
recruitment commercials, like "CSI: Miami," "Law and Order" and
sports programming. Web ads will run on ESPN.com and other major
sites, but also destinations like Stack.com, a site for
McCann Erickson is part of McCann Worldgroup, a collection of
creative, media, digital and public relations agencies, each of which
has a hand in the wide-ranging campaign. Worldgroup, which is part of
the Interpublic Group of Companies, took over the Army's advertising
account in 2006, when it introduced the "Army Strong" tag line,
replacing "Army of One."
The online centerpiece of the campaign is a microsite,
GoArmy.com/officer, where potential candidates can answer a series of
questions that determines which of the four paths to becoming an
officer is right for them. Those paths are Army R.O.T.C., the
Military Academy at West Point, direct commission and officer candidate school.
The site also contains videos, each less than five minutes long,
explaining more about each of the paths. Potential candidates can use
the site to download information and make contact with a recruiter.
The site was created by MRM, the digital arm of McCann Worldgroup.
The Army is also working with Major League Baseball to produce a
program called "Leaders of the Diamond," a series of interviews with
all-stars about leadership and dedication that will appear on
MLB.com. It is also hosting panel discussions at universities around
the country this fall at which students can talk to officers directly.
The goal of the campaign is not just to recruit officers now, said
General Freakley, but also to begin doing a better job of marketing
the officer "product" to young Americans.
"If you think about it as brand or product management, we have this
product within our brand that gets no notoriety," he said. "For those
who just graduated college, now is the time to become aware they can
come to officer candidate school. We think the timing is right to get
the notion out."