“For a place, a people, an idea,” the narrator gravely intones, “marines will fight – and win.”
The US Marine Corps’ latest two-minute recruiting trailer shows them doing just that: firing heavy artillery, staring down their rifle sights while chin-deep in muddy water, and, of course, raising the flag on Iwo Jima. But the ad also has snippets of service on the home front: A former jarhead who thwarts a gas station robbery, for instance, and marines collecting Toys for Tots donations in fatigues.
By the time the trailer wraps up, you’re probably expecting to see “The Few, The Proud, The Marines” flash across the screen. The iconic slogan appears, but not before the words “Battles Won.”
This slogan, and the decision to highlight community service alongside battlefield victories, marks the latest fine-tuning of the military’s recruitment machine.
The “Battles Won” concept, explains Marine Corps recruiting command spokesman Justin Kronenberg, is “an all-encompassing brand idea that frames the chapters of our longer Marine Corps story in the context of a fight – fighting self-doubt to become a Marine; fighting our Nation’s battles; and fighting for what’s right in our communities,” according to Military.com.
Meanwhile, Military.com also reports that "The Few, The Proud, The Marines" may soon be replaced entirely with a not-yet-determined tagline.
Since America’s draft ended in 1973, the military has needed to sell potential recruits on service. “The few, the proud, the Marines” has been recognized as one of that effort’s greatest successes – even earning a spot on Madison Avenue’s Advertising Walk of Fame in 2007.
First used on television in 1977, it often accompanied clips of challenging – but exciting – aspects of service: marines sweating their way through obstacle courses and rappelling out of helicopters.
But during the Iraq War, as both soldier deaths and military recruitment efforts increased, ads like these drew criticism. In 2005, Slate’s Seth Stevenson wrote,
Recruiting ads typically depict life in the military as a really fun first-person shooter game, one that happens to look good on a résumé. Recently, the "Army of One" spots showed off some of the awesome, adrenaline-pumping jobs that soldiers can have — mostly jobs that don't involve being shot at.
Critiques of the military’s efforts to recruit young people have continued in more recent years. But the Marines have also begun appealing less to video game-like excitement and more to a desire to serve at home. One lighthearted spot from 2015 began with images of civic pride – a voting booth, a soccer game – before segueing into boot camp and battlefield scenes and concluding, “This is the land I love, the country I’m honored to serve.”
Gunnery Sergeant Kronenberg, the Marine recruiter, says that “Battles Won” was “years in the making.” During that time, the campaign’s planners seem to have decided to emphasize the familiar promise of adventure over less-proven-to-succeed ideals of service.
Both the full two-minute trailer and the 30-second spot combine action scenes with peaceful, all-American images. But the shorter video leaves out the thwarted gas station robbery and Toys for Tots collection scenes that are likely to resonate with more civic-minded viewers.
It’s too early to tell if either ad will attract more recruits, but recent events made clear that this campaign, like those before it, sidesteps the dangers of military service.
Last week, several hundred marines deployed to Syria to fight the Islamic State. And on the home front, a massive nude photo-sharing scandal has placed Marines leadership – and internal culture – under scrutiny. In coming months, it’s not just the Marines’ recruiters who will have battles to win.