'Strong' PR, bad strategy
Editor's note: USU journalism
graduate Leon D'Souza now serves in the U.S. Army.
By Leon D'Souza
October 30, 2006 | Not long ago, on what might otherwise
have passed as another sedentary afternoon spent honing
my Solitaire skills, I came upon a curious bit of news.
It was contained in an e-mail message from Army Secretary
Francis J. Harvey, although I suspect the hyperbolical
proclamation was more likely the oeuvre of
a flack for the service's well-endowed public affairs
office. Oyez, oyez, the missive thundered, Uncle Sam's
green-suiters have a new clarion call: It's "Army Strong."
"For 231 years our Army has been the vanguard of freedom
around the globe," Harvey began. "Our ability to fulfill
this vital role . . . depends on our ability to fill
the Army's ranks in the future with committed and capable
A new ad campaign, the secretary reasoned, was in
some way central to this momentous mission.
"'Army Strong' stands for a big idea," he went on.
"It speaks to the truth about the U.S. Army -- that
soldiers develop mental, emotional and physical strength
forged through shared values, teamwork, experience and
Then this impassioned avowal: "I firmly believe 'Army
Strong' is the truth. I speak often with soldiers as
I know you also do. In different words and in different
ways, over and over again, I hear the story of strength."
Huh, I mused, it's funny I haven't drawn the same
My numerous exchanges with fellow soldiers on the
question of enlistment have suggested a more practical,
financial motive. After all, what can be more enticing
than thousands of dollars in bonuses, paid tax free,
during some stage-managed overseas deployment?
It's a shot at that swanky car or a mortgage on a
house -- pieces of the American dream that ordinarily
might seem out of reach.
In truth, I have yet to encounter a soldier who cheerfully
relinquished his civil liberties to don the uniform
owing to some snazzy catchphrase. Perhaps Mr. Harvey
has, I thought, but I have a sneaking suspicion he's
making this one up.
Of course, I couldn't help but wonder how much the
Army had spent on its newest recruiting mantra.
Naturally, Google had the answer.
Turns out, the slogan, which replaces the familiar
"Army of One" campaign, is the result of a $200 million-a-year
contact with the McCann Worldgroup, a communications
firm hired by the service last December after a particularly
disappointing recruiting year. The overall five-year
contract, according to the Associated Press, is valued
at $1 billion.
To put this in perspective: In a year of widening
trade deficits, wildly fluctuating oil prices, surging
war costs and declining dollar valuations, Army bigwigs
-- bureaucrats and brass alike -- thought it wise to
bet a shocking $1 billion on what might well amount
to a reckless gamble.
To be sure, a glossy ad campaign will do little to
obscure the stark reality of a war that has cost us
nearly 3,000 American lives. And even our most selfless
patriots will ultimately yield to the discouraging prospect
of death in a hostile foreign street.
The best spin doctoring, in the end, is powerless
against the grim foreboding of a mounting body count.
So why, then, splurge on fancy advertising?
I could go on about fiscal responsibility, but I won't
belabor the point.
Suffice to say that if "Army Strong" is the Pentagon's
idea of prudent spending, it's time American taxpayers
clamored for a hefty refund.