Some of you may remember the old Army recruiting theme, “Be All You Can Be.” I do, and it was one of the most popular marketing themes in its day. I also remember the motivational song from the 80s “We Were There.”
Those two themes were a rallying cry to serve in the U.S. Army that I will never forget. It called to the very patriotic spirit to be a part of something that was historic and honorable. Those words reminded one of the motto of the US Army, “This We’ll Defend,” and you gained an immense pride is carrying that title, U.S. Soldier. For me, being a Soldier was my raison d’être, as it was my dad, a World War II Soldier, who challenged me to be the first commissioned officer in our family. It was about joining a legacy of service, sacrifice, and commitment to my nation. What better marketing tool was needed?
Late in my career as a Soldier, I watched the Army succumb to the culture and change that venerable theme of “be all you can be.” The new theme became “Army of One”, and we all chided the commercial that showed a young Soldier with no weapon, no helmet, out of uniform, and running the opposite direction of the tanks, helicopters, and other Soldiers. To us Soldiers, it appeared that this “Army of one” was a deserter, running away from the sound of battle…I guess that’s what Bowe Bergdahl was doing? The Army later came up with a new theme, “Army Strong”, which many of us thought was solid…we loved the tag line, “there’s strong, and then there’s Army Strong!” Now, today, I don’t really know what the Army recruiting theme is…but I do know it hasn’t been exactly memorable and a new report suggests it’s a colossal waste of money in any event.
As reported by AdWeek.com, “The results of an internal audit of the U.S. Army’s budget question the effectiveness of the hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars the organization spends on marketing and advertising each year. Its conclusions call many of these programs “ineffective,” claiming that the majority do not justify the costs.
“An audit of our outreach efforts is not yet complete, and any comment on the findings would be premature,” said a spokesperson for the Army Marketing and Research Group, or AMRG, in response to a related query. The audit launched in 2016 during a still-ongoing competitive review for the Army’s marketing account, which could concern up to $4 billion in spending over a period lasting as long as 10 years, according to Department of Defense estimates.
A series of U.S. government documents acquired by Adweek also appear to indicate a conflict of interest involving the AMRG and McCann Worldgroup, which has been the Army’s agency of record since 2005. A McCann representative deferred to the client for comment. This development follows an earlier Adweek report in which Department of Defense sources claimed that the review had been “compromised” due to allegations of an improper relationship between executives at AMRG and McCann. The Army leader in question, James Ortiz, was removed from his position, but remains employed by the U.S. government.
Adweek acquired a summary of the audit’s findings, dated Oct. 5, 2017 and titled “The Army’s Marketing and Advertising Program, Return on Investment.” This document states that, in fiscal year 2016, the AMRG failed to reach all but one of its six established performance goals. “In addition, our analysis showed that only 3 of the 23 (about 13 percent) marketing programs generated a positive impact during the year,” it reads.
The document goes on to claim that the AMRG spent more than $930.7 million from 2013 to 2016 “on marketing efforts that potentially didn’t provide best value to support Army recruiting,” noting that 20 different programs costing a collective $36.8 million in 2016 alone “didn’t demonstrate a positive return.” The summary continues, “For [fiscal years 2018-2023], AMRG would continue to use about $220 million for the same ineffective marketing programs.”
The greatest recruiting tool for the U.S. Army, our military, isn’t about advertising dollars. It’s about the legacy of service. My desire to be a Soldier came from knowing of my dad’s service as a Soldier. And today, my nephew’s desire to be a Soldier came from his being there back on June 6, 2002 at Ft. Hood Texas watching me take command of an Artillery Battalion. Today he’s the fourth generation of our family to serve in uniform, the third Soldier, second commissioned officer, and yep, he’s an artilleryman.
For young people, future generations, to desire to serve our Army, our country, all we need is to ensure those who have served share the pride of having worn the uniform of our nation. Indeed, those were the words of my dad, a black man, who went to serve his nation at a time when this nation did not afford him all the rights and privileges of others. His words to me that there is no greater honor than to serve this nation in uniform were the most effective recruiting tool, and it didn’t cost anything.
When our young people see our veterans held in high esteem and revered, there will be a yearning to serve this nation and fight to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic.” And that’s also the case with being a Sailor, Airman, Marine, law enforcement officer, and firefighter. We don’t need massive amounts of marketing dollars. All we need to do is revere and honor those who are truly the best this nation has to offer: those who serve and protect.
When we have stories broadcast nationally of the horrific disrespect being shown our veterans as they die awaiting medical care and treatment; when we know that on average daily in the United States there are 20 or so veterans committing suicide; when we have a culture that rewards overpaid sports entertainers for disrespecting our flag and national anthem while those who salute, and those for whom the flag will drape their coffin stand resolute, go unnoticed… It is truly disrespectful to us, Soldiers, to witness anyone taking a knee on our flag…as our motto says, it is that flag and the honor of our nation that we’ll defend.
The best recruiting tool for our Army, is victory, and unlike what Barack Obama stated, that is not a nuanced term. When Ronald Reagan was asked how he defined victory in the Cold War he simple stated, “We win, they lose.” The greatest recruiting tool is to kick the crap out of our enemies, not have nuanced and nebulous strategies. Watching videos of Sailors on their knees at gunpoint by Iranians ain’t an effective recruiting tool, especially when you have an administration that thanks the enemy for treating our troops so well.
Everyone wants to be on a winning team. Can you imagine what goes through a top draft pick’s mind as he’s picked to go to the Cleveland Browns?
The Minutemen at Lexington Green and Concord Bridge didn’t need any swanky marketing gimmick or advertisement. They fought because there was a cause worthy of their exertions. Today, we have folks seeking to join our Army because they’ll get free taxpayer-funded gender reassignment surgery and hormonal therapy treatment. What does that have to do with the honor of our nation, and defending our way of life as embodied in the Constitution?
The Army, indeed all our military, doesn’t need multi-million dollar advertising and marketing budgets. We just need to once again display what the most honorable thing to do as an American…serve something greater than yourself, this country. We need to show future generations that the real safe space is provided by rough men and women who enable them to sleep safely at night. We need only talk about our history and teach what it means to serve this nation in uniform. Perhaps once again, we’ll have a commander in chief, a president, who has served in uniform, and knows what it means to lay their life on the line…what it means to make the last full measure of devotion.
Now, that would be the best recruiting tool to become a Soldier, Sailor, Airman, or Marine. Seeing a president who, when Taps is played, they render a hand salute, and tears run down their cheek…that costs the taxpayer nothing, but is indicative of one who was willing to pay the ultimate sacrifice.
[Learn more about Allen West’s vision for this nation in his book Guardian of the Republic: An American Ronin’s Journey to Faith, Family and Freedom]