Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Few, the Proud ... and the Chaos

The United States Marine Corps has a new advertising campaign: as today's New York Times put it, the new Marines campaign "cites chaos as a perk." You know: the sights, the sounds, and the smells of battle -- all the things that make a young man's (or woman's?) heart race. You can see it for yourself at "Toward the Sounds of Chaos" on the Marines Corps website.

The news of this new angle on military recruiting made me think back to a time in mid-October, 1983, when I went to meet with a friend in Washington, D.C. Bob worked as an advertising executive, and his major account was a branch of the U.S. military. As I sat with him in his office, he told me that it had been a momentous day because of the attack that day on U.S. Marines barracks in Lebanon. One way it had touched him was that he had gotten a directive from his client to "CANCEL ALL WEIGHT" -- i.e. pull all ads scheduled to run -- for that day.


I was pretty naive back then. I remember wondering, "Why would they decide to not run their recruiting ads on this particular day?" Later, when I started to see the photos coming back from Beirut, I realized this had become a day when no one was going to buy what they were selling.

Since then, I've asked myself again and again, "Who gets recruited to go to fight in U.S. wars, and how does that happen?" I've become convinced that it never involves telling people the truth about what they're in for if they join.

The New York Times says that the new Marine Corps ad campaign was designed, in part, based on research that shows that young people want to "help people in need, wherever they may live."

Really? They really think that translates into a pitch to go fight in the Marines?

We need to do several things for our young people. First of all, we need to show them pictures of war and explain: "This is what real chaos looks like." And then we need to ask, "Still think this sounds appealing?"

Second, we need to guide young people away from violence. "Want to help people? I can recommend a hundred ways for you to do that, none of which involve picking up a gun."

Do you want to help young people see things straight and resist military recruitment? You don't have to do it alone. There's a great campaign called We Are Not Your Soldiers that is working every day to help young people get the straight story. Check out We Are Not Your Soldiers and figure out a way to help them with their work.

Our work isn't going to be done until the military recruiters finally determine that no one is buying what they're selling any more. And the day will come when they send one last directive to their advertising agencies:

"CANCEL ALL WEIGHT"

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Photo: Bill Foley, AP, retrieved from Marine Corps Times

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