The Army's misguided "influencer" campaign

Today's Wall Street Journal (November 29, 2007) has an article about how the Army is now promising new recruits up to $40,000 in seed money toward the purchase of a home or the starting of a business.

The goal, says the article, is not so much to reach recruits as their parents. It quotes the program's "architect," Lt. Col. Jeff Sterling: "If you want to get a soldier, you have to go through mom, and moms want to know what kind of future their children will have when they leave the Army. This is meant to answer that question in a tangible, concrete way."

As the Journal notes, the new program "is the latest sign of the military's growing use of marketing and other recruitment strategies from American corporations." In particular, the idea of targeting "influencers" rather than the audience themselves is a forward-thinking approach.

The problem, I think, with the Army's new campaign is that it misreads what influences the influencers. Parents are not wary of the Army because they are afraid their children will have no future when they get out. They are wary of the Army because they are afraid their children will die in battle in Iraq, or be seriously wounded.

The way to address this is not to up the financial ante, but to speak directly to the emotion--the fear that parents have. The Army needs to initiate some kind of campaign that talks about the likelihood that recruits will be hurt or killed in battle. If the likelihood is low, then they can say that. If it is high, then they need to say, this is the situation, but it's the price we pay for freedom--appealing to parents' patriotism and sense of duty and loyalty to the nation.

Money can't fix everything...and there is no way to buy patriotism. Either you believe in the Army's mission, or you don't. The rest is just Madison Avenue talk.