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  5. The Army in the Marketplace: Recruiting an All-Volunteer Force

The Army in the Marketplace: Recruiting an All-Volunteer Force

Advertising the Army

In the early 1970s, when the army began preparing to move from a draft-dependent to an all-volunteer force, those in charge of the transition believed they would have to rely heavily on advertising to recruit a sufficient number of young men. The army had an account with the advertising firm N. W. Ayer. It was a relatively small account, however, worth about $3 million (about $14.6 million in constant 2003 dollars). N. W. Ayer created recruiting advertisements aimed at draft-motivated volunteers (those who expected to be drafted and sought more control over the conditions of their service by enlisting); the ads tried to attract them to the army instead of the other services. Faced with recruiting large numbers of volunteers from 1973 on, the military invested heavily in advertising. In 2003, the Department of Defenses allotted $592 million for recruiting advertising; the army’s share of that total was approximately $295 million.

The army has used a series of major advertising firms over the past three and a half decades: N. W. Ayer, Young & Rubicam, Leo Burnett, and McCann Erickson. Its longest-running and best known slogan was “Be All You Can Be,” which lasted almost two decades. The current slogan, introduced in late 2006, is “Army Strong.”

Recruiting advertising is based on careful analysis of the potential “market.” Marketing research determines what appeals to those with a reasonable propensity for enlisting, and advertising agencies create ads that emphasize those benefits, whether the concrete benefits of job training or money for college, or the intangible benefit of “Be[ing] All You Can Be.” But advertising agencies are also influenced by changing trends and possibilities in the field of advertising. Today, the army goes well beyond radio and television ads, sponsoring its own nascar team as well as cowboys in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. The army’s Web site is a sophisticated recruiting tool. The free computer game America’s Army is another. In comparing army recruiting advertising over time, it is important to pay attention not only to the changing messages of the ads, but also to the changing production values, advertising conventions, and technological possibilities.


  • “Goodbye,” a 1970s television ad for the Delayed Entry Program, was very popular at the time. To whom might it have appealed? What reasons does it offer for joining the army? How might this commercial compare to other advertisements from the early 1970s? What common advertising conventions does it use?
  • GoArmy.com, the army’s recruiting Web site, offers users a great many options. How does it seem that the designers imagined their audience? How does this site portray the army?
  • What is your reaction to the new “Army Strong” commercial? What techniques have the producers used to create that reaction? Why might the army represent itself in this fashion in 2007?
  • How has the way army advertising represents women and members of racial and ethnic minority groups changed over time? Do such representations matter? Why or why not?


A. “Goodbye,” television commercial, 1970s

B. Army recruiting advertisements

  1. Today’s Army: “We care more about how you think, than how you cut your hair,” c. 1971-73
  2. Today’s Army: “When was the last time you got promoted?” (Women) c. 1971-73
  3. Today’s Army: “When was the last time you got promoted?” (Men) c. 1971-73
  4. Today’s Army: “Take the Army’s 16-month tour of Europe,” c. 1971-73
  5. Today’s Army: “It you think you will miss the guys, bring them along,” c. 1971-73
  6. Today’s Army: “You get 12 matches, a knife, some twine, and 3 days to enjoy yourself,” c. 1971-73
  7. Today’s Army: “We’ve got over 300 good, steady jobs,” c. 1971-73
  8. Join the People Who’ve Joined the Army: “Some of our Best Men Are Women,” c. 1973–78
  9. Join the People Who’ve Joined the Army: “Country Music,” c. 1973–78
  10.  “Join now. Go later. Up to four months later. Your future, your decision. . . choose Army,” c. 1967–71
  11. “This Is the Army” (men), 1979–80
  12. “This is the Army” (women), 1979–80
  13. “Be All You Can Be,” 1981

C. GoArmy.com, screenshot, June 2007

D. “Army Strong,” television commercial, 2007