Army television advertising: recruiting and image-building in the era of the AVF



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Kansas State University


The United States Army faced a dire challenge when conscription was phased out in favor of the All-Volunteer Force (AVF) in 1973. The Army was confronted with pressing manning requirements while suffering from the American public’s disapproval over the war in Vietnam. The end of the draft in favor of an all-volunteer force did not offer a great deal of promise for filling Army manpower requirements. Army leadership realized that it needed new methods that could recruit quality volunteers while simultaneously reforming the Army’s public image. Paid television advertising, able to reach a wide and diverse viewing audience, was pursued as a way to achieve both of those objectives. This study examines Army television advertisements since the creation of the AVF and analyzes their imagery and messages. Surprisingly consistent themes and messages have persisted in the Army’s television advertising for over thirty-five years of the AVF’s existence. During that same time, American attitudes toward the military were increasingly characterized by an interesting paradox. The American public overwhelmingly supported the military but grew less inclined to volunteer for military service. The public’s good feelings toward the Army and its “support for the troops” were not borne out with strong recruitment numbers during the years of the AVF. This work will argue that the messages in Army television advertising helped change the Army from a vital national institution into just another employer making a basic job offer in the audience’s mind while doing little to reform the Army’s public image. The ads did not appeal to America’s youth to commit themselves to national service. Rather, the ads promised to help individuals realize their wishes and dreams by focusing on the economic and educational advantages that the Army could deliver. Consequently, the ads cast the Army as a sort of trade school willing to provide young people with marketable skills, educational opportunities and enlistment bonuses in return for a short stint in the service. Public service and duty to the nation were rarely mentioned. The ads portrayed the Army as willing to strike deals with recruits to advance their personal goals and enrichment while demanding little in return.



United States Army, Advertising

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Master of Arts


Department of History

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Mark P. Parillo