Advertising and recruitment in post-draft American society
By Matt Honold
Military recruitment is a touchy subject, no matter who you ask. Indeed, involvement in armed combat has always been subject to the scrutiny of the masses; yet while the particular means and ends of our country’s fighting forces may come into question, it cannot be denied that America must maintain a strong military. For the majority of our nation’s history, the armed forces have been a volunteer force. That’s where you come in. You might be like millions of eligible citizens who have wondered what it’s like to serve in the military. You might be willing to take the first step.
If so, then those familiar commercials that depict soldiers in uniform, in school and in action have done their job. With your interest in enlistment, those men wearing Army camouflage and handing out fliers in the halls of your high school didn’t look out of place for no reason.
From 1940-73, the task of generating enrollment was much easier: They used the draft. Selective service was necessary during WWII and continued to be supported through the initial stages of the Cold War, including the Korean War. However, with our country’s highly unpopular involvement in Vietnam, involuntary enlistment became a heated moral issue, opposed by most Americans. As the war was waning, President Nixon ended the draft, and it hasn’t been used since.
Instead, the military now depends on strategic marketing. That is, they create interest in enlistment with advertisements and rely on recruiting officers to offer the opportunity. In 1970, when the Gates Commission announced that the military would be ending the draft within a few years, 42 private firms were offered the Army’s advertising contract. In those two years, the worth of the Army account grew from $3 million to $18 million, and the military had begun to utilize the American free market to generate recruitment.
In 1999, the Department of Defense upped its advertising game by creating the Committee on the Youth Population and Military Recruitments, which aimed to create a larger pool of potential military recruits by examining the goals and values of American youths to create the most effective incentives for enlistment. The CYPMR determined two main points: College was becoming increasingly popular among high school graduates, and the idea of service to one’s country was becoming less popular. Hence, the military issued new marketing campaigns in order to appeal to the core values of individuals, such as “Army of One” in early 2001—just before 9/11. The attacks of 9/11, as well as wars, in Afghanistan and Iraq, were cause for a newfound patriotism across the country. Since then, military advertising and recruiting has been more present than ever.
If you live in America and own a TV, you should be fully aware of the military’s marketing efforts. You may also be familiar with the sight of uniformed recruitment officers in high schools and at colleges. Officers such as Capt. Caine Goyette, who has headed the Central New York Marine officer recruitment effort since 2008, are allotted recruitment quotas based on the yearly numbers determined by Congress. Because it is not represented by a military academy, the Marine Corps relies mostly on the work of 70 recruitment officers, aiming for about 2,800 recruits this year compared to about 560 sought by the Navy.
“A big part of the job is finding students who are interested,” said Goyette, pointing out that there’s no way to tell if anyone has the drive and perseverance of a successful officer until they are put to the test. Recruits may enter the Marines at the enlistment level with a high school diploma or at the officer training level if they have or plan to complete a four-year college education. Officers may then choose to be trained as pilots, lawyers, ground officers or in a number of other specialties.
Capt. Goyette would tell any college student who’s thought about joining the Marines, “Just consider it. There are a lot of preconceived notions about the military. … But the pay is good, the lifestyle is good, and it increases your marketability to future employers. … It is completely a win-win program.” He added that Marine Officer Candidate School, a 10- to 12-week summer training program, is rewarding, paid and offers the security of a job after college without any commitment.
Opposed to the work of recruiters (and usually of the military in general) are a group of concerned citizens who call themselves the “counter recruitment.” Judy Alves is part of this movement. She tries to expose and debunk recruitment methods she considers dishonest and misleading. For example, the U.S. signed a United Nations treaty in 2002 banning the recruitment of anyone younger than 17 years of age but still employs the Junior ROTC as a “pre-recruitment” organization. The military also uses “bribes,” Alves said. “This was seen in the DREAM Act, a bill that failed to pass in December but would have offered conditional legality to illegal U.S. residents in exchange for enlistment. She also stated that with the No Child Left Behind Act, “The Department of Defense and the Department of Education got married,” collecting information on high school students to be used by recruiters.
Alves and her colleagues work to inform schools and parents about the recruitment methods of the U.S. military, especially probing organizations like Joint Advertising Market Research & Studies (JAMRS), which collects information on teens for use by the military. They are working to make sure that no military recruit is lied to about scholarships and other incentives or the fine print of a military service contract.
The military is right for some and seems wrong to others. Advertisers and recruiters may indeed be targeting and fooling teens into service with false notions or misleading incentives, and the wars they are sent into may be unjust. But on the other hand, the military is simply doing what it needs to in order to maintain its numbers and its presence in the world, and not one citizen is required to assist this effort against his or her will.
Matt Honold is a sophomore writing major. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.