Advertising the Military

Switching from the draft to a volunteer army has made marketing key to recruitment over the last three decades.  By Karin Fleming ’09

“Take the Army’s 16- month tour of Europe” is the headline that accompanies a photograph of a 20-something American man sitting at a café with a beautiful, presumably European, woman. Beth Bailey, a history professor from Temple University, used the ad as an example of the advertising techniques and goals of the military after the draft was eliminated in 1973.

Bailey presented the lecture “Today’s Army: Is It Your Bag? Advertising, Recruiting, and the All-Volunteer Force in the Early 1970s” on campus this spring. The talk addressed how the change from draft to volunteer service affected the way society viewed military service. Before the Vietnam War, young men (the primary marketing target of the time) joined the army out of a sense of obligation to serve their country, which was reflected in the army’s marketing strategy during those years. After Vietnam, the marketing messages shifted focus from obligation to opportunity, telling young men they’d get self-improvement opportunities such as travel and college tuition reimbursement.

Bailey says this fundamental shift changed not only the way society views the army and military service, but also the way the army views itself. The army’s marketing strategy post-1970, she says, has been based on figuring out what young people want and then offering it to them through the military. “The way the military tries to appeal to young people says something about how we perceive American values and the values of youth,” Bailey says. Which, she points out, informs the way the army tries to repackage itself to appeal to those perceived values.

Bailey’s presentation was based on the first few chapters of a textbook she is researching and writing on the marketing history of the U.S. military.