By Greg Farrell
Published: November 18 2010
Deep within the bowels of the sprawling military complex at Fort Knox
in the Kentucky countryside, Bruce Jasurda takes some satisfaction in
knowing that his mission, which is never fully accomplished, is at
least going well.
A 57-year-old civilian who began his career as an Army cadet, Mr
Jasurda has a tough job as chief marketing officer of the 1.2m-strong
fighting force: with the US mired in two increasingly unpopular
conflicts, how does the lead recruiter for the US Army sell the youth
of America on volunteering for a 36-month stint?
The hard part, it turns out, is not to increase the numbers but to
make sure that those selected are of the right calibre and sufficient
diversity to reflect the nation for which they will fight.
"We're the ultimate considered purchase," Mr Jasurda says, before
adding with a touch of mordant humour: "If you buy this product, you
Since the draft was dropped in 1973 in favour of a volunteer fighting
force, the US Army has relied on a hefty advertising budget to pound
its slogan into the minds of 17- to 24-year-olds.
From 1980 to 2001, the slogan was "Be All You Can Be", a catchy call
to action that resonated in popular culture. It was replaced with "An
Army of One", a clunker abandoned in 2006. "Army Strong" is the current theme.
With an advertising budget of almost $200m, the media buying was
always weighted heavily towards television spots, with some print and
radio thrown in. Yet, by the time Mr Jasurda arrived last year to
serve as a fresh pair of eyes in charge of the marketing programme,
it had become clear that the media plan was no longer connecting with
the most appropriate potential recruits. Research showed that the
scholar-athletes coveted by the Army were spending more of their time
online, not parked on a sofa in front of a TV.
Mr Jasurda and the man who hired him, Lt Gen Benjamin Freakley,
counselled cutting back TV, building up the Army's web presence, and
giving thousands of soldiers access to the internet with an
unfettered ability to blog about their experiences in the field.
The social media platform lets the Army fill a gap that has emerged
between ordinary Americans and the military. "Today, less than 1 per
cent of the US population has served in the armed forces," says Mr
Jasurda. The only image many potential recruits have of the Army
comes from TV or the movies.
Visitors to the Army's website can now see the results of the social
media experiment. Under the heading "Army Strong Stories", soldiers
talk about why they signed up (because the army paid for college, in
many instances). Some, displaying impressive directorial skills, have
posted mini-documentaries about battles and spoofs of well-known music videos.
Although there was initial concern in the Pentagon about letting
soldiers express themselves so openly, Mr Jasurda says everyone
ultimately agreed that the soldiers would act responsibly. "We
recruit them and send them to the rifle range," he says. "If we're
going to be a serious consideration for potential recruits, the onus
is on us to make sure we're transparent and informative."
A Chicago-area native, Mr Jasurda joined the Army in 1975, became a
paratrooper, and got his masters in communications at Northwestern's
Medill School, after which he worked, as an officer, on the Army's
"Be All You Can Be" ad campaign, then handled by NW Ayer.
Mr Jasurda left the Army in 1985 to work at Ogilvy & Mather in
Chicago and from 1997 through 2008, he worked as a turnround
specialist for companies in trouble.
But he is quick to point out that army recruitment was not in need of
a turnround when he arrived.
The perks and trappings of his life as an ad executive are gone.
Instead, Mr Jasurda enjoys the sense of purpose that animated his
early career in the Army.
"We have 100 per cent awareness," he says. "We've been in all the big
wars. What we have is a perception problem."