I came across this story on Super Bowl Weekend: The Marines Seek Young, Tough Recruits in Super Bowl Ad.
For some reason, I don't think that's money well spent. Let me tell kind of flesh out why it bothers me. In 2018, it cost around $5 million for a Super Bowl ad. And that's just to air it once for 30 seconds. It doesn't count production costs. It doesn't count secondary airings. The target audience probably wasn't millions, or even hundreds of thousands, but thousands of able-bodied young men (and women).... with the emphasis on YOUNG.
In 1945, at the close of World War II, there were over 12 million American troops. About 8 million servicemen in the Army, yet just under 500,000 Marines. In a country of 140,000,000, nearly 1 in 10 American citizens served in a branch of the American Military. It seemed like everyone served.
Year ARMY NAVY MARINES C.G. TOTAL TROOPS
Today's total population in the US is around 325,000,000 with just over 2 million serving, with only 200,000 of those being Marines. That means a paltry .6% of Americans are serving in the Armed services, including .06% of the population being Marines. You shouldn't be having problems corralling .06% of patriots in this country.
Now the armed services are competing for the best of the best. During World War II, the best of the best gravitated toward the armed services. Today, the best of the best gravitate toward sports with multi-million dollar paydays as the endgame such as football and basketball. You would argue that less Americans are making Professional Athlete money than are becoming Marines and you'd be right. But colleges are loaded with athletes who THINK they'll go pro one day. I betchya that number is close to, or over, 200,000. Very few athletes graduate college, then turn around and join the military after graduation.
So who was that Super Bowl commercial aimed at? Let me tell you a sad story about my youth. Me and my friend Mike went to see the blockbuster Top Gun in 1986. What I saw was a propaganda film with bad acting and horrible music. I thought Top Gun was one of the worst movies ever made. What Mike saw, on the other hand, was a work of art. If you asked him, today, 30 years later, the best movie of all time, he would say Top Gun. Mike went out and enlisted in the Air Force in the summer of 1988 at the age 18.
That Super Bowl commercial was aimed at this generation's Mike (last name redacted)s. The problem with that is how many teens are watching the Super Bowl and how many are playing Call of Duty? You could continue to argue with me that those same kids will see that commercial later on YouTube and I'll listen to that. You could argue that kids playing Call of Duty are already being recruited to the military, and I'll listen to that, also.
I don't know though, I think you kind of have to be called specifically to be a Marine. Kind of like you have to be called to be a priest. (There are around 400,000 priests in America.) I don't remember the Catholic Church advertising for priests during the Super Bowl.
There's a sport in America called Obstacle Course Racing. Not familiar with it? Of course you are. There's American Ninja Warrior in its 10th season over there on NBC, which is a generic, sanitized version of the sport. Even if you've only seen commercials for ANW, you get the gist of what's going on. For hardcores, there's Tough Mudder, Rugged Maniac, Spartan, just to name a few. My cousin encouraged me to take my son to a local event, she's one of the top ranked OCR athletes in all of Oklahoma.
I asked my son if he'd be interested in OCR and he wanted more details. I said it was like "military basic training, but fun." He didn't like that description and asked me to try again. "Okay, think of it as a giant obstacle course, in the mud." That sold 'em. So I took my son to a Spartan Event and he had a great time. Exhausted, yes, but he is looking forward to more events to challenge himself in 2018.
And that's what OCR does, it challenges you. But as with all things, how do you make a profit on a new sport? That's where we circle around to the beginning. As we walked into the Spartan event, it reminded me of when I used to play Mud Volleyball for the Epilepsy Foundation back when I was a younger man. Loads of young people, reeking of mud and wearing clothes that would be thrown away at the end of the day. The big difference was at Mud Volleyball, there was beer everywhere. I think the event was fueled by alcohol. There was no business model, after operating costs, the remainder of the money went to charity. Whereas Spartan was fueled by...by... I'm not sure how to describe it. Everyone was so positive and energized, yet I didn't see a drop of alcohol anywhere. The whole atmosphere seemed very organic based on the simple concept of challenging yourself. What I did notice everywhere was the ads. Not for McDonalds. Not for Coca-Cola. Specifically, The Military. I saw Go Army spray painted on walls and military recruiters milling around.
I wasn't offended at their presence, we weren't on the campus of Cal-Berkely where the sight of a uniform causes young Snowflakes to melt. We were ankle deep in the mud of the rust belt, with a quarry and a junkyard in the background as scenery. I can't remember for sure that the Marines were specifically one of the military advertisers, but I'm 90% sure that they were.
And if the Marines were going to advertise, that's probably the right place to do it. From a marketing prospective, that was where to find specifically what they were looking for, philosophically, on the ground level.
What's my point? The United States had troops deployed in over 175 countries in 2017 and President Trump is talking about have a Soviet-level Military Parade in Washington DC this year. Why are we in 175 countries? Why are we even considering having a military parade? As a nation, the Marines should be seen as a necessity in an increasingly hostile world, but....
...but, but, but, the glories of the fight should be de-emphasized. If being a Marine is a great occupation, you shouldn't need to advertise the job at all. Military Parades and Super Bowl Commercials shouldn't need to happen. Those young men and women at the Spartan event, go ahead and remind them that the armed services exist and are an option. I'm pretty sure nearly everyone there was already familiar with their military career choices.
If the ideology of the United States shifted back to pre-World War 2 thinking, pulling troops out of Europe, Africa, and Asia and not considering itself the World's Policemen, I'm pretty sure that recruitment quotas would be easily satisfied without multimillion dollar recruitment tools.
Editor's Note: One hour after I posted this article, I turned on the Cavs-Celtics game to see what the score was. The Cavs made 3 big trades this week and this was the first game with all of the new pieces. I watched the game to the end while I was working on another article. As the end credits rolled, the final score flashed Cavs 121-99 and the announcer added "this game brought to you by the U.S. Marines..."