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.