Army ads will keep stressing economic benefits--unless fighting erupts in gulf

December 09, 1990|By Richard H. P. Sia | Richard H. P. Sia,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- If war breaks out in the Persian Gulf, the ubiquitous Army recruiting commercials during weekend football and basketball telecasts will virtually disappear, the head of Army advertising said Friday.

"We would be inclined to reduce our visibility," said Col. John C. Myers, the advertising director. "It would be a little bit insensitive to be advertising heavily about [offering] money for college when we're at war and there's shooting going on."

How to attract recruits during a war is a question that continues to vex Army officials, the colonel said. "We're working on it, but how do you plan? It's very complex."

But for now, officials of the Army said they have no plans to change its familiar "Be All You Can Be" campaign to lure young men and women into uniform, despite recent recruiting troubles and claims by some critics that the ads are deceptive.

"What drives an ad campaign is results, and if an ad campaign is falling flat on its face, we'll adjust it," said Lt. Col. Joseph L. Allred, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon. "But we're still getting the numbers [of recruits], so there's no reason to change it at this time."

He referred to the Army's success in getting enough people to enter active-duty service each month, largely because of enlistment contracts already signed by recruits who promised to join within a year.

Less worrisome, he said, was the recent decline in new enlistment contracts -- the commitments by recruits to join the Army, often at a later date.

"I don't see a major change in direction if [Operation] Desert Shield stays in a stalemate," Colonel Myers added. "Kids still want to go to college; kids still have to start a career."

For more than a decade, the all-volunteer Army has turned to sophisticated Madison Avenue marketing techniques to attract the educated and ambitious to the job of the mud soldier.

The centerpiece of this effort has been the highly successful "Be All You Can Be" advertising campaign.

"It's one of the highest-recognition ad campaigns ever," said the command's Barbara Sorenson. "I can't believe we would abandon that. We don't see a problem."

Army advertising, which includes a companion ad campaign dubbed "Get an Edge in Life," has begun to come under fire from some critics of the U.S. military presence in the Persian Gulf.

And some reservists-turned-conscientious objectors have complained that they enlisted expecting to get financial help for college, not orders to go to war.

"That's very simplistic," said Colonel Allred, dismissing any suggestion that Army ads emphasizing economic benefits are misleading.

All Army commercials feature at least one shot of soldiers in camouflage uniforms working "in the field," he said. "Anybody who doesn't know what the mission of the U.S. Army is, doesn't know U.S. history."

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