Ad Report Card

The Few, the Proud, the Advertisers

Moving new commercials for the Army and Marines.

Lately we’ve all been seeing U.S. military personnel in an up-close and personal way that we’re not used to—often picking sand out of their teeth, and sometimes looking around nervously as they are questioned by Iraqi captors. These are just “slices of the war,” as Donald Rumsfeld might put it, but they are not the sorts of images that appeal to our idea of what military service means.

A moving ad that doesn’t shy away from combat But the reality of war affects even the imagery that the Army and Marines put forth in the most idealized of settings: advertisements. Both those military branches have lately released new commercials that mark a notable shift in the way the military tries to sell itself. The Army reportedly keeps its ads off the air at least in the early stages of an armed conflict, but you can see its new ad on its Web site. The new Marines spot, above, is currently airing.

What’s most striking about viewing the two ads back to back is how similar they are. Both aim to make a largely emotional pitch. The Army ad uses gentle but soaring orchestral music, with images of U.S. soldiers offset by slogans that emphasize the most soulful aspects of service: “Honor and courage,” “Not for ourselves alone,” “Always ready,” “No task too tough,” “The will to succeed,” “Led by love of country,” and somewhat less reflectively, “We will always win.”

The Marines ad also uses an orchestral and inspirational-sounding score, though some of its images are more explicit in showing Marines headed to combat, even slamming into the sand with machine guns. The only words are titles between images: “For honor, for courage, for country.” It closes with the long-standing slogan, “The few, the proud …”

Both ads are, in fact, rather moving. Whether you think the present war is a necessity or a tragedy, it is hard not to admire and support the actual troops. It’s a cliché to say so. Nevertheless, the degree to which we are looking at individual soldiers, in real time, probably makes it more true than ever.

For the Army, the shift to such an emotional message is a big switch from its recent marketing strategy, which pushed the service as a place to acquire skills and be a better person. The slogan “An Army of One” attracted more than a few critics who wondered whether such a selfish pitch was a good idea. That slogan closes out the current ad, but seems almost jarringly out of place after such a push for teamwork and sacrifice.

The Marines have also used messages in the past that suggested that the Corps was perhaps above all a place to test your personal mettle. And they have oftenmade combat look exotic and exciting, in one memorable case portraying a Marine as a battling knight in shining armor in a setting that looked like something out of a video game. The current ad shows no such hints of fantasy or romance. To the contrary, there’s something almost sad about it. These really do look like good men and women, and they really do look like they are prepared to go and do whatever they are asked to do, and probably do it as well as it can be done. Watching, you are certainly convinced of their worth and the standard they set—and you can only hope that their leaders live up to it.