Army Seeks Recruits in Social Media
by STUART ELLIOTT, nytimes.com
May 24th 2011
WHEN ads for the Army used the theme “Today’s Army wants to join you,” a joker rewrote it this way: “Today’s Army wants to join you. At your place.” These days, the Army is getting social — if not quite that sociable — as potential recruits increasingly spend time with social media like Facebook, Flickr, Twitter and YouTube.
The next phase of the Army’s recruitment ad campaign keeps a theme, “Army strong,” that was introduced in 2006 and adds a focus on the Army uniform as a “symbol of strength” as well as symbolic of qualities like commitment, achievement and leadership.
The direction of the campaign is typified in a line recited in commercials by the voice-over announcer, the actor Gary Sinise, who talks about the significance of the uniform before concluding, “Try it on at goarmy.com.”
The recital of the Web address underlines the concentration on digital media for the campaign, although there are traditional elements like television spots.
“We’re working hard to increase our social media,” said Lt. Gen. Benjamin C. Freakley, because “we fully recognize that young people TiVo over commercials or are multitasking on their smartphones when the commercials come on.” General Freakley is commanding general of both the Army Accessions Command, which oversees recruitment, and Fort Knox, Ky.
“Since the late ’80s, 9 percent of the population is propensed toward military service,” General Freakley said, compared with about a third in the 1970s. As a result, he added, “we have to reach out in forms like we’re discussing to get them to want to know more, to join us in social media and extend the dialog.”
The campaign continues previous elements like video clips, blogs and a microsite, armystrongstories.com, that are intended to connect would-be soldiers “with real soldiers,” General Freakley said.
At this time of year, potential recruits — men and women ages 17 to 24 — are also spending time at the movies, which has led the Army to its first sponsorship deal with a Hollywood film. The film, “X-Men: First Class,” will be released on June 3 by 20th Century Fox.
On the Army Facebook page (facebook.com/goarmy), visitors are invited to “view exclusive content from the upcoming movie” as well as watch a trailer for the film and a commercial that promotes the Army by comparing the experience to becoming an X-man.
The movie “is about young people who are ordinary doing extraordinary things,” General Freakley said. “Ordinary people come in the Army and do extraordinary things every day.”
That said, he took note of the differences between the two: “Soldiering is real. ‘X-Men’ is for Hollywood.”
Clifford E. Marks, who helped broker the sponsorship in his capacity as president for sales and marketing at National CineMedia in New York, said the deal represented “the big screen and the small screen working together” in that the promotional content can also be watched on Web sites that are part of a National CineMedia network like rottentomatoes.com and traileraddict.com.
The Army is also running the commercials featuring the voice of Mr. Sinise in National CineMedia movie theaters, which include those owned by AMC, Cinemark and Regal.
Mr. Marks brought the sponsorship proposal to Universal McCann, one of seven agencies working on the Army account that belong to the McCann Worldgroup unit of the Interpublic Group of Companies. The others include McCann Erickson Worldwide, MRM Worldwide and Weber Shandwick.
(Four other agencies working on the assignment are independent, among them Gravity Media and Carol H. Williams Advertising.)
The agencies were hired by the Army in late 2005 and rehired on March 31 for an additional year with four one-year renewal options.
“There’s a lot of ways to talk about the kind of strength we mean when we say ‘Army strong,’ ” said Craig Markus, executive vice president and executive creative director at McCann Erickson Worldwide.
“The human truth is, we all react when we see a soldier wearing a uniform,” Mr. Markus said. “It means a lot to us, and it means a lot to them.”
“With symbol of strength, it’s about all these other things” that the uniform stands for, he said, including “a key, a passport, an all-access pass, a family tree, a sense of brotherhood and sisterhood, the power of the team, how people like you, yet different from you, are all moving in the same direction.”
Jason Culbertson, creative director at MRM, said the digital aspects of the campaign “allow people to have a direct line of communication with those who wear the uniform,” and such dialog helps potential recruits “understand what it means to be in the Army, to be ‘Army strong.’ ”
As more of the campaign appears in social and other digital media, the spending for ads in major media has declined, according to the Kantar Media unit of WPP, to $41.8 million last year from $168.7 million in 2007.
Those at the Army Accessions Command “are novices at using Twitter,” General Freakley said, in that only a bit more than 3,030 Twitter users follow the command’s account at @GoArmy. (The main Army account, with the handle @USArmy, has more than 74,270 followers.)
Describing rappelling and other activities that recruits go through in boot camp, the general said: “It’s exciting stuff. Would I love to have those young people tweeting about that.”
Why can’t they? Well, “in the first three weeks of basic training, we take away your smartphone,” General Freakley said. “You don’t even get mail from home.”
Those policies may one day be changed, he said, in that “as digital natives join us” in larger numbers, “we’ll get the balance of that right.”
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: May 25, 2011
An earlier version of this column misspelled the surname of an executive at McCann Erickson Worldwide. He is Craig Markus, not Marcus.
Original Page: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/25/business/media/25adco.html?_r=2∣=tw-nytimes&seid=auto
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