While the advertisements cost the US government millions of dollars each year, the Navy reaped big returns with big recruitment numbers. Here’s a look back at the marketing messages that made a difference back in the ’70s & ’80s.
Signing them up for Uncle Sam: Hard sell, sweet talk
By Henry Gottlieb – The Record (Hackensack, New Jersey) September 22, 1985
TOWANDA, Pa. — In the hills above the Susquehanna River, the hunting season never ends for Dick Wilson — not even in summer, and not even in the pockets of population along the dusty roads that wind past the hamlets and dairy farms.
Once in a while, an unwary woodchuck pops up its head as Wilson passes in his government-issue sedan, or a deer feeding at night on the edge of Route 6 stands transfixed by the headlights.
But Wilson is searching for more elusive game. In the words of the competition, he’s “looking for a few good men and women,” and it isn’t easy.
Wilson is part of an armed-forces recruiting system that is making an unprecedented effort these days to fill the services with talented young people, and is facing a future in which the pool of eligible candidates continues to shrink.
It’s big business, a $1.2-billion, high-pressure endeavor that can no longer depend on the draft to spur enlistments, and must rely on some of the slickest sales techniques devised by private industry.
From the New York subway riders who read “Navy. It’s Not Just a Job, It’s An Adventure,” to the 85 million people across the country who saw the Marines’ $425,000 commercial during last year’s Super Bowl, few Americans have escaped the armed forces’ message.
But giving a message and getting a recruit are as far apart in distance and tone as Madison Avenue and Park Street, Towanda, where Wilson runs a three-man station representative of those in the small towns that still provide the backbone of America’s fighting forces.
It is a classic rural county seat, quartered by a state highway and a river, with a line of fading 19th Century stores on Main Street pointing inward to a massive stone courthouse and Civil War monument and outward to wood-frame houses, small shopping centers, a Burger King, and the hills beyond. Wilson does most of his work in those hills, more specifically, in the farmhouse kitchens and the county’s high schools…
‘You have to go out and get them’
Today, “walk-ins” are so rare, Wilson says, that “when a guy walks into the office and says he wants to join the Army immediately, the first thing I do is look out the door to see how far behind the police are.”
Wilson has put 275 people into the Army in the past four years, enough to make him the Army’s third-best recruiter in 1984. He and his colleagues have met the goals set for them for this year.
But things are going to get tougher. For the current fiscal year, the armed forces must bring in about 320,000 people to maintain a strength of 2.1 million. A vast majority of the new people come from the 17 to 24 age group.
MORE: 20 questions about the draft, answered: How they did it during the Vietnam War
Pool for recruits is shrinking
Right now, there are 32.4 million people in that group. But the pool is shrinking every year, and projections are that it won’t bottom out, at about 27 million, until after 1995, when most of the kids of the baby-boom generation start hitting their teens.
Another problem is the rising number of young people who go to college — 50 percent in Bradford County, for example. And there’s America’s rising affluence, which allows youngsters with high school educations to put off career decisions knowing mom and dad will help out.
Dennis Potter, a Navy recruiter in Falls Church, Va., said a prospect once told him, “If I want to go to sea, I’ll get my dad to buy me a boat…”
Navy. It’s not just a job, it’s an adventure
If you’re just looking for a job, you can probably take your pick of thousands. But if you’re also looking for adventure, the field suddenly narrows. To the Navy.
In the Navy, a job means more than a good paycheck. It means the opportunity to see places like Italy, Spain, Morocco, Hong Kong, the Phillipines and Hawaii. It means working on some of the most advanced technical equipment devised by man. It means doing a job that really counts, with guys who count on you to do it.
The Navy has more then sixty career fields we can train you in. We’ll help you continue your education, and you’ll earn thirty vacation days with pay, a year.
What can the Navy offer?
You can probably take your pick of thousands. But if you’re also looking for adventure, the field suddenly narrows — to the Navy.
Whale boat run, Gulf of Salerno.
Port of call, Montego Bay.
Navy. It’s not just a job, it’s an adventure.
A job means more than a good paycheck. It means an opportunity to see places like Italy, Spain, Morocco, Hong Kong, the Philippines and Hawaii.
Learn an exciting technology. Use it in exotic places.
On a rolling deck, a man learns to stand on his own two feet.
What to tell your mother when you’ve decided to join the Navy. (1976)
First, tell her you won’t be gone forever. The Navy isn’t at sea constantly; you’ll be home in your uniform before she knows it.
Then tell her what the Navy can do for you. The top-quality training in over 60 career fields. That you can go into a Navy school with nothing but your own brains and come out with a skill you can use for life.
If she’s worried that Navy duty is hard, tell her she’s right. You will work, you will take orders. But if you’ve got the stuff, promotions will come right on time. You’ll travel, make new friends, see and do things you never could at home.
And, with the Navy Campus For Achievement, you can work for college or vocational credits — even while you’re serving with the fleet. Your Navy recruiter has all the literature, or can answer any questions you might have. Or you can call 800-841-8000 toll-free.
The sea isn’t such a strange place for a young man to go. Mothers’ sons have been growing up there for thousands of years.
Navy. It’s not just a job, it’s an adventure.
Navy officer. You get responsibility the moment you get the stripes.
It’s not just a job, it’s an adventure.
70s STYLE FOR HIM: Vintage menswear: See some old-school suits & ties that guys were wearing back in the ’70s
MORE VINTAGE NAVY ADS
Be someone special. Join the Navy. (1974)
Earning a high school diploma is good. But is it good enough?
Get a good thing going when you graduate. (1974)
A Navy career. It’s not just another job down the street. (1975)
The Navy won’t hand you the same old routine.
The spirit of Navy ’75. Build your future on a proud tradition.
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“The Navy has helped me turn my dream into a reality.”
The opportunity is for real… and so are we.
We’ve been making and breaking tradition for 200 years.
HERE’S MORE: See dozens of vintage US Army & Navy shoulder insignia, plus WWII military medals & ribbons