I've never understood why branches of the U.S. Armed Forces haven't been able to devise a compelling marketing campaign, at least not since the days of "Be All You Can Be." Perhaps it's a question of approach: While playing up the nobility of serving one's country and highlighting the
make-the-world-a-better-place aspect of the gig are appropriate tactics, the campaigns often neglect to note that what servicemen and women do is both selfless AND way effin' cool. Loaded words like
"character" and "discipline" stand in for the message that friskier members of the account team must be itching to convey. Namely: "We kick more ass than King Leonidis, Michael Jordan and Batman
It is in that context that the new Marine Corps ad campaign, web site and accompanying video blitz oughta be evaluated, specifically the way they eschew the usual balance between the adventure/chest-pounding elements that might appeal to potential recruits with the tonal sobriety demanded by our collective war-weariness. This campaign is the first in quite some time that more or less abandons that latter component. Hell, even its title, "Towards the Sounds of Chaos," sounds like the name of the best-ever concept album by the best-ever Swedish death-metal trio.
A press release heralding the campaign's arrival promised that it would showcase "the diverse range of Marine Corps missions conducted in defense of our nation, restoring order and stability through reconstruction efforts, humanitarian interventions, natural disaster relief or peacekeeping missions around the world." But really, the online components of "Towards the Sounds of Chaos" strive for cinematic and visceral appeal over all else. Regardless of what it says in the press release or in The New York Times, this campaign stresses that service-minded individuals need not apply.
Its centerpiece ad is as old-school as they come. A gravel-voiced narrator solemnly intones about Marines "forged in the crucible of training," while music straight out of an NFL Films production (not "Woopsy-Doopsy: A Season in the Life of the Cleveland Browns") mingles with the sound of whistling missiles and hovering blasto-copters. Nobody who watches this thing can walk away thinking, "Gosh, that sure makes me want to hand out bottled water to impoverished orphans in newly de-tyrannized lands." No, the only possible response it provokes is "Invade! Annihilate! High-five! Toby Keith!"
The other online elements take a similar approach, though with far less bluster and polish. Best is a documentary series of sorts, which walks potential recruits through their Marine Corps orientation. We see a crop of newbies learning how to wield a bayonet, participating in day movement drills and sharing warm moments with their kitten-gentle sergeant. Shot in hi-def and tinted brownish-green to give them a grittier feel, the clips do more to convey the essence of the experience than a thousand "son, you will learn about teamwork, responsibility and honor" lectures ever could. You can almost feel the cool pellets of barking-officer spittle grazing your chin.
I don't know whether the documentary-ish videos predate "Towards the Sound of Chaos," but that's beside the point. What matters is that the Marine Corps has shifted the tone of its marketing towards something that feels far more honest. Don't buy it? Compare its elements with ones from current Army (vague strength metaphor), Navy (boats and guns and guns and boats) or Air Force (infrared goggles and scary trees) campaigns. One branch comes out way ahead, and it's the one that doesn't attempt to paint its mission with the broadest of brushes.