Military Ad Campaigns: Why the Marines Still Rule Madison Ave.

USMC Ad: The Few The Proud The Marines

USMC Ad: The Few The Proud The Marines

As I’ve been driving along I-95, making my way north, I’ve taken notice of the great frequency of billboards advertising the United States Marine Corps. What struck me was not so much the content and veracity of these ads in particular but rather the incredible effectiveness of the Corps’ overall advertising campaign. Just a glance at those strong, composed young Marines in their dress blues makes one aspire to be one of them. That got me thinking, what about these ads makes them so effective?

1) Consistency. The Marine Corps’ message has remained pretty much the same for decades. The Few. The Proud. The Marines. This is their message, their mantra. They found something that works and stuck with it. The words are timeless. One can see their use here in a 1970s tv ad all the way through to the present day. Compare this to the Army’s ever changing slogans (Be All You Can Be, Army of ONE, Army Strong) or the Navy’s (Accelerate Your Life, Global Force for Good) or the Air Force’s (Aim High, Cross Into the Blue, Above All). None of the other services have found one that resonates nearly as well across the generations as The Few and The Proud.

2) Exclusivity. The Marines present themselves as a very exclusive club, quite accurately I might add. They are a (comparatively) small, elite group of warriors. This does well to excite the imaginations of their target demographic – young men – and proves a source of great inspiration to many. With ads like this they set themselves apart, as something great, something to strive for. The requirements for entry into the other services may be different from those of the Corps, but they are certainly no cake walk. It takes a great deal of effort, talent, and competitive edge to become an Air Force Pilot, or an Army Ranger, or a Navy Submariner. And yet these services are rarely associated with the word “elite,” at least not nearly to the same degree as the Corps. It stands to reason that they could incorporate more of that certain air of exclusivity that most of their present campaigns lack.

3) Mythology. More than any other service, the Marine Corps has embraced their own mythos. They have an enduring legacy, one that shines through in their traditions, their uniforms, the manner in which they conduct themselves. So too do the other services. But the Corps has been able to capitalize on this legacy, this mythology, to much greater effect. From the crucible to the silent drill team to the never ending line of warriors in dress blues, they know how to tell their own story in a way that awes and inspires. The other services have achieved this on occasion, I point to the Army’s recent Officer campaign as one example. But by and large their strategies have involved a hodgepodge of stories and messages, from “adventure on the high seas” to “help with college loans.” If there is one thing I would note it is that the services need to embrace their mythos, and make every effort to share it with the world. It is Service Members’ identification with that legacy, that sense of belonging to something great, that more than anything else inspires them to serve, and to continue to serve for years to come. College money may help, but they need to believe in it first.

4) Simplicity. The Marine commercials don’t say much. Because they don’t need to. The images say it all. One of the best Army commercials I ever saw was the premier of the new Army Strong campaign that was shown to a few of us Junior Officers back in 2006. It was epic. And not a single word was spoken. Sadly this version never appeared to make it to air, but was instead replaced by a variety of voice-overs. Effective? Sure. But not nearly as inspiring as that first commercial. Pictures are worth a thousand words. Actual words often just get in the way.


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13 thoughts on “Military Ad Campaigns: Why the Marines Still Rule Madison Ave.

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  3. marine117 says:

    Great piece…though as a former Marine I am clearly biased. One thing I wanted to highlight, and it is something commonly recognized among Marines; is that when people compare other services and training to the USMC, they consciously/sub-consciously compare basically trained Marines to more elite units of other services as opposed to basically trained elements.It is these types of comparisons which help perpetuate the message and may also point to the effectiveness of the ad campaigns. As you mention consistency, exclusivity, mythology and simplicity also play a role. I would also posit that Marine ads tend to be very genuine i.e. no promises of college, or an easy lifestyle and up to date i.e. UFC sponsorship. One benefit the Marines do have though vs. the other services is a smaller service i.e. at about 200,000 total Marines, marketing campaigns can be much more refined and consistent.

  4. Kevin K Liu says:

    The Marines get that people are inspired by the “why” of your organization, not the “how” or the “what”. A good talk on the subject, with a case study of how Apple's marketing works in the same way: http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/simon_sinek_h

  5. Guest says:

    Be All You Can Be was a great campaign that lasted for a very long time. It should have never been discontinued. But the Army wasn't content to keep to message and now has suffered several abominations since then.

  6. Eric says:

    Good points. The Army officership commercial is a personal favorite. For a longer video, my favorite is Call to Duty: Boots on the Ground at http://www.army.mil/calltoduty/.Of the four, I think “mythology” captures it best. As a Columbia ROTC advocate, I believe a shortcoming in our movement has been a lack of a compelling Columbia-specific military mythology, tradition, heritage, etc. to stir a deeper response.From personal experience, Marines' PR is effective. When I joined the military, I believed the Marines were tougher and more exclusive than the Army, not including Rangers, Green Berets, etc., and Marines' boot camp was harder than Army basic training. (Not that I thought Army basic training would be easy.) After I left the Army, I watched a TV documentary on Marines boot camp that showed it to be essentially the same as my Army basic training. Score one for reputation. Still, even if the essentials are the same, esprit and professional pride make a difference, and if Marines generally hold themselves to a higher standard, then that becomes a higher standard for the branch.

  7. […] Ad Campaigns: Why the Marines Still Rule Madison Ave. Secure Nation ^ | June 8, 2010 | Sean […]

  8. jmw says:

    The Marine in this ad is my husband!!!!!!!

  9. RCE says:

    As a young man in the early 70's,I attended Marine Corps platoon leader training. At a time when the big push was management, the Marine Corps held fast to it's core values of leadership. At that time it was often implied that these Marine values were outdated.The Marine Corps seems to stay true to it's core values in spite of the latest fad.Perhaps the the mythos comes from core values and long term commitment to them.So the images are simply a well done reflection of these values.Not a sound bite

  10. Steven says:

    Who WOULDN'T want to murder people with America's blessing? Sounds like a good spot of fun to me. Heck if I was an American I might join up and go slaughter some civilians as well.

  11. Krys says:

    There are  a lot of great points made in this article. The USMC doesn't use a lot of “fluff” in their advertising because, as you said, they let the Corps speak for itself. That attitude of no-frills, nothing-to-prove straightforwardness reflects the overall attitude of the Corps. On the topic of consistency, it's interesting to see how the Marine dress blues have remained virtually unchanged over the decades as opposed to the uniforms of other branches. It's a powerful motivator when an 18-year-old can look at a picture of his grandfather in- his- dress blues and see the same uniform that's worn today. The Marine Corps definitely has the strongest sense of identity.

  12. Jbviscomi says:

    My dad, Alan Gillies, wrote the enduring Marine campaign slogan, The Few. the Proud. The Marines. In1972 for J. Walter Thompson advertising agency. sadly, mt father never lived long enough to see how his slogan helped the American landscape on Madison Avenue. He spent a week in Camp Lejeune, SC, in 1971 to observe and go through the basic training so he could authentically capture the experience a Marine goes through to become a Marine. He decided after, his campaign, I Never Promised You A Rose Garden, that a simpler, more direct approach would be more appropriate. I just wish my father were alive today to see how his campIgn slogan has been an enduring part of the advertising world, but more importantly, how it has become so associated with the Marine Corps for nearly 40 years.

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