With new ad campaign, Army wants to highlight its ‘breadth and depth’

The Army says previous campaigns have told audiences too much of what they already know about military service. The latest effort aims to "surprise" the Generat...

The Army’s newly-christened marketing office is set to launch its first ad campaign on Monday, and if there’s one consistent theme that ties the multi-platform messaging strategy together, it’s that the Army wants to pivot from reinforcing what people already know about military service to educating them about what they don’t.

The new campaign — dubbed “What’s Your Warrior?” — won’t be as focused on combat roles as previous ones have been. Although officials insist they won’t downplay the fact that the Army is ultimately a warfighting operation, they say they also want to showcase the “depth and breadth” of the service and its more than 150 occupational specialties.

Brig. Gen. Alex Fink, the chief of the new Army Enterprise Marketing office said that’s partly because relatively few Americans in the audience of potential recruits have a solid understanding of military service. But it’s also because the Army believes that if its campaign is going to break through to that “Generation Z” audience, the content needs to surprise them a bit.

“This new generation has made an Olympic sport out of thumbing through social media on their phones, and so we’ve got to stop them. We’ve got to earn their attention. And how do you do that? You stop them by surprising them,” Fink said in an interview for Federal News Network’s On DoD. “So we’re surprising them with every element that we can think of for every sense we can think of. So the colors that we use are going to be much different than what you’ve ever seen. We’re trying to show all these roles but in really cool ways that we think will resonate. It’s going look a little bit more futuristic in a sense, almost like a Marvel-type property to it.”

Army marketers also believe that if they’re going to keep the audience’s attention, they can’t simply run the same ads until it’s time for a new campaign. So the campaign will change over time. Fink said it will be a story that’s told in “chapters,” with the chapter rolling out this week introducing five characters — a microbiologist, a cyber expert, a signal officer, a sniper and an aviator — that highlight specific Army career fields.

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“But it’s really not necessarily designed to drive people towards those specific career categories, it’s really just to show them that they can do different things than what they thought and do it in a really cool way,” he said. “But then as we evolve the campaign in chapters two and three, we’re going to go into more depth into each of these types of career fields and then introduce more career fields. We’re going to see what’s resonating and then be able to make sure this thing constantly by many different variables, whether it’s geography, demographics, be able to measure which ones are doing well, which ones aren’t doing well and, and change on the fly.”

Traditional TV, radio and sports-based advertising will be part of the mix, but Fink said the main focus will be digital — with both static display ads and video versions on websites and in social media.

Eventually, they’ll try to direct watchers to an updated version of the goarmy.com recruiting website, where potential recruits can match their interests and skills up with some of the Army’s career fields. But Fink said the ads will need to get their attention first.

“We’re not necessarily telling somebody right up front that this is an Army ad, because our audience may believe that they already know who we are, and we don’t want them turning us off as soon as they realize that. We need to draw them in,” he said. “One of the driving factors is to break out of what we call the sea of sameness, so that we don’t look like all the other ads — particularly the other military services’ ads. We want to own this, and we can own it if we execute it smartly.”

What’s Your Warrior is the first major endeavor for the new Enterprise Marketing office, which the Army formally stood up in August. The Chicago-based organization is gradually replacing the Pentagon-based Army Marketing and Research Group (AMRG).

The Army picked Fink, an Army reservist, to lead it partly because he has spent most of his civilian career in corporate marketing and branding positions. The new office will have a much heavier complement of uniformed military personnel staffing it, compared to the civilian-dominated AMRG.

Initially, they’ll be drawn from various Army professions, but Fink said the Army wants to make marketing a career field of its own and build a pipeline of future leaders in that space. Earlier this year, the Army took steps in that direction by creating the new Functional Area 58, a career field for officers that will focus on strategic advertising, marketing and research.

“Once you come into the functional area, that’s what really drives your assignments. And so we’ll be able to have officers who are really assigned to the functional area, and whoever my successor is can help mentor them through the rest of their Army careers to get them the types of assignments that they need to be great marketers,” he said. “This is a critical component of a nation having an Army. And when you have things that are this critical, particularly in an area where we can do so many things in the digital marketing realm to help influence and shape and manage the accessions process, it seemed like a natural place where you would have a career field.”

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