Slogans that Sell the Service: A Brief History of U.S. Navy Television Ads After the End of the Draft

May 29, 2015 4:32 PM - Updated: May 29, 2015 4:58 PM
Screengrab from Navy's video for the
Screengrab from Navy’s “Global Force Good” campaign.

The Navy has long recognized the effectiveness of powerful visual images for attracting new recruits. Men who had not been drafted were often enticed to enlist by the striking images found on ubiquitous posters as well as by the smartly uniformed personnel manning the recruiting booths.

Join the Navy PSA (1952)

Navy Officer Candidate School commercial (1960)

Join the Navy Nurse Corps (1960s)

But in 1973, Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird announced that there would not be another draft, signaling the start of the all-volunteer force.

Without a guaranteed supply of new sailors, the Navy realized that its recruiting efforts needed a substantial boost. The Navy began to rely on advertising agencies to develop aggressive television-based marketing campaigns to fill the ranks.

Since the establishment of the all-volunteer force, the Navy has had several official slogans and variations from four different advertising firms with marginal effectiveness, the service admitted to itself in 2002.

“The Navy has historically had an image problem and has not effectively presented itself to the public/target market through advertising,” according to an internal Navy report commissioned by its Millington, Tenn. personnel command.
“Significant turnover in slogans and campaigns, and inconsistent advertising spending practices are contributors to the current problem.”

This week the service made another advertising firm change from Campbell Ewald — which had been the service’s ad firm for 15 years — to Young and Rubicam (Y&R).

The one-year $84 million contract will pay for recruitment and retention campaigns along with four one-year options that could grow the award to $457 million, service officials told USNI News on Thursday.

A U.S. Navy personnel spokesman, told USNI News the service needed to refocus recruitment and retention efforts and messaging as the U.S. economy steadily improves.

Be Someone Special

The Navy’s first foray into post-draft 1973 recruiting was a short-lived campaign from the Grey advertising firm with the slogan, “Be Someone Special.” The Navy moved in a different direction and Grey registered a protest with the General Accounting Office that wasn’t resolved until 1977.

Navy, It’s not Just a Job, It’s an Adventure

One of the most enduring Navy recruiting slogans was the product of Ted Bates & Company which took over the Navy ad account in 1976. Showing sailors on liberty in exotic ports of call, like Hong Kong, the campaign was indicative of messages “targeted to prospects ages 18 [to] 24 and focused on their ‘what’s in it for me’ question,” read a 2009 Navy recruiting presentation.
Bates tried a few variations on the general theme before the service moved on in 1988.
Live the Adventure

Full Speed Ahead and Let the Journey Begin

In 1988 the service gave its ad business to the ad firm BBDO Worldwide which continued to empathize the service’s relationship to the individual.

You Are Tomorrow; You Are the Navy (1988-1990)

You and the Navy, Full Speed Ahead (1990-1996)

Let the Journey Begin (1996-2001)

Accelerate Your Life and Global Force for Good

In 2001, the service enlisted Campbell Ewald to take over it’s ad business and followed the same general strategy of other firms with the “Accelerate Your Life” campaign, punctuated by the iconic 2006 “Footprints” television ad for the SEALs.

Accelerate Your Life (2001-2009)

Navy SEALs ‘Footprints’ (2006)

After several years of emphasizing how the service could benefit the individual, the Navy shifted to a new strategy in 2009 to expand beyond the just benefits for potential sailors but more toward the role the U.S. Navy has in the world, according to a slide presentation from the Navy’s recruiting command obtained by USNI News.

“The ‘good’ the Navy performs everyday takes many forms including bombs on a terrorist hideout, bullets to protect innocent civilians, bottles of water to those in need, and advanced training and education for our sailors,” read the slide.

The service and Campbell Ewald arrived at the slogan, “America’s Navy, A Global Force for Good.”
However, the campaign was often criticized and ultimately gave way to the more direct, “America’s Navy” in December.

A Global Force for Good (2009-2014)

America’s Navy” (2014-present)

Sam LaGrone

Sam LaGrone

Sam LaGrone is the editor of USNI News. He has covered legislation, acquisition and operations for the Sea Services since 2009 and spent time underway with the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and the Canadian Navy.
Follow @samlagrone

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