Are the Marines approaching recruitment in the right way?


For at least 60 years, advertisers have pitched young people by saying, “If you buy our product. you will be cool.”  They haven’t said, “You are cool; therefore you should buy our product.”  The promise is that the product will fulfill your desires, desires that go far beyond a particular pair of jeans, a specific soft drink, or a certain brand of after shave.  You don’t desire “Nike.”  You desire the promise of Nike:  performance, sophistication, beautiful body.  The fact that you will wear your expensive Nike shirt stretched over your cuddly beer belly as you lounge on the couch watching Honey Boo-Boo is irrelevant.  You’re wearing Nike, so you know you’re awesome.

Which gets me to a Marine recruitment effort:

The Marine Corps on Wednesday began an advertising campaign targeted toward encouraging enlistment by Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, two groups that make up only a tiny percentage of the Corps.

The campaign, entitled “A Warrior’s Education,” features videos on the Marines’ Facebook page in which 1st Lt. David Pham and 1st Lt. David Oliver David extol the virtues and challenges of being a Marine officer, and link Marine discipline to the values they learned from their families.

Pham, 25, who spent some of his youth in Westminster, attended Georgia Tech and is now a combat veteran of Afghanistan, talks of his mother, a refugee from Vietnam.

“Growing up, I’d say my role model was my mother,” he says. “You always respect your mother, you do the right thing. When you get to the Marine Corps, it’s more a pride you wear.”

From focus groups, Marine leadership learned that family honor and the concept of self-betterment through education are key values among Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, according to Lt. Col. Raphael Hernandez, assistant chief of staff, advertising, for the Marine Corps Recruiting Command.

“They’re strivers, they seek opportunity,” Hernandez said of the two groups being targeted. “We want the influencers to know — the mothers and fathers — that their daughter or son can find success in the Marine Corps.”

On the one hand, I really don’t like the idea of the military targeting specific racial or nationalist subcultures within America.  That seems to me to buy into the multiculturalist PC stuff that’s turning our Pentagon into a haven for every Leftist idea, and that’s driving out the fighting ethos that is, technically, it’s actually purpose in this world.

Having said that, to the extent that the Marines are targeting Asians and Pacific Islanders by saying that being in the Marines is about having something to be proud of and having accomplishments under your belt — well, I think that’s a great way to sell a product.  Nike also thinks it’s a great way to sell a product.  We’re not running after you — but you should be running after us.  Except….  Except that when your ad campaign targets a specific minority group, that’s precisely what you’re doing — you’re running after them, which kind of kills the message about how you’re supposed to be the prize they pay for, and not vice versa.

In other words, the Marines have the right idea (“we’re special and you can be special by association”) but have fallen into political correctness and are sending a meta message that undercuts the spoken message.  (“Please, join us, please, please.  Our quotas are unbalanced without you.”)

I didn’t enjoy the movie Field of Dreams (Kevin Costner just doesn’t work for me as an actor and I just don’t “get” baseball), but I’ve always liked the movie’s famous tag line:  “If you build it, he will come.”  The Marines take pride in being the best. In this day and age, they need to advertise, but the ads should be spread far and wide, to all people, and shouldn’t be a form of quota hunting.  That just cheapens the message.

Incidentally, one of my favorite books to come out of the war in Iraq is Marco Martinez’s Hard Corps: From Gangster to Marine Hero.  When being a gang member sickened his soul, he was drawn to the Marines because they didn’t want someone like him.  They wanted someone better than he was and he too wanted to be that better guy.

Some institutions just shouldn’t pander.