DoD Reaches Out to Parents in New Ad Campaign

By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 20, 2008 - Defense Department marketers launched a new television and online advertising campaign today, but its primary target is not potential military recruits ? it's their parents.

In one of the handful of ads slated to begin airing nationally, a mother and father sit in their car parked outside a convenience store, talking as their teenage son runs inside.

"The military. I didn't see that coming," the mom comments.

"You're telling me," the dad responds.

"I'm scared, obviously. But kind of impressed, too," says the mom.

"He doesn't want to wait to do something important," the dad replies.

"Wow," the dad says.

"Yeah," the mom agrees.

While this conversation plays out on a TV screen between actors, officials with DoD's Joint Advertising, Market Research and Studies program believe it is a conversation that is happening in kitchens and bedrooms, on ball field sidelines and on couches in living rooms across America. And it is a conversation they want to encourage.

"There are few things as influential as the parents' advice and support. That's why we want parents to know the facts [about military service]," said Air Force Maj. Michele A. Gill with JAMRS.

JAMRS is a small office located in Arlington, Va., not far from the Pentagon. It places advertising and conducts research for the Defense Department, which it shares with each military service's recruiting command.

But the program is not a recruiting agency, Gill said, and its primary focus is on educating those influential in the decisions of potential recruits. This ad campaign targets the middle-aged parents of young adults between 17 and 22 years old.

"Our goal ... is to educate the families and give them a reliable, honest look at what the military has to offer, and even some of the risks that are involved, ... just to help them make a wise decision," Gill said.

In fact, Gill said, it is simply the conversation about military service they are after, not necessarily an endorsement of military service from the parent. DoD officials want military service to be considered as an option equally with college or vocational training, she said.

"We want the conversation to happen between the parent and the young person regardless of whether the young person decides to join the military or not," Gill said. "Just the fact that they're having the conversation is 'mission accomplished' for us."

The conversation about military service between parents and teenagers is a relatively new phenomenon in an era in which parents are now much more involved in their sons' and daughters' decisions, said Tom Jump, a managing partner with Mullen Advertising, the agency that developed the campaign.

"I think the family unit is fundamentally different," Jump said. "Parents have taken a much more collaborative and integrated role in raising their children. It's not just the decision of the child or the parents; it's a family decision.

"They really want to provide a strong foundation and make sure that their children understand all of their options and possibilities, and really have open conversation about what are going to be significant decisions in that child's life," he said.

Also, Gill noted, in past generations it was more common to enlist because many parents served and children often grew up around veterans.

"There are a lot of parents in today's generation who have not served in the military, so there could be a lack of information out there about what the military has to offer," Gill said. "Maybe the only thing they know about the military is what they see on the movies or in the news."

Executives at Mullen Advertising have worked with JAMRS for six years and helped produced a previous campaign that pushed influencers to "Make it a two-way conversation."

That campaign focused on the decision from the potential recruit's perspective, while this campaign focuses on the decision from the influencer's perspective.

Jump called it an evolution of the previous campaign and said that the agency hopes it models a positive response by the parents. This campaign promotes the theme, "It's a big decision. Talk about it."

"If you've got somebody who has enlisted and has the support of their family members, loved ones and friends, they would have a very positive view going into the service," Jump said. "Our role is to really educate them and make sure they have all the answers they need and give them an unbiased view of what those options and opportunities are."

The ads were directed by a company that also has produced Super Bowl advertisements for the likes of Pepsi and Budweiser. The ads offer diverse environments and family models, and officials hope to connect using what they said are real-life situations and the emotions involved in the discussions.

Each ad directs viewers to the Web site for more information on military service.

"Military service can be a difficult subject to broach. That's why it's important for parents to know the facts," Gill said. "Joining the military is a big decision. We want to encourage parents to really listen to their son or daughter who has talked to them about serving our country and doing something bigger than themselves."

Gill said that an informed family decision can lead to a more qualified lead for military recruiters.

"They're sure they want to serve. They know what the risks are. They know what the benefits are," she said. "It's not just some quick decision. They've actually thought about the decision. The help of the parents just reinforces the decision."

Gill joined the Air Force at 17 years old, she said, after talking about it with her parents starting in about the sixth grade. In her junior year of high school, her parents starting taking her desire to serve seriously, Gill said. And, she said, their support was a major factor in her decision.

"My parents were definitely a part of that decision-making process. I wanted their support. I wanted their advice," Gill said. "If they would have highly discouraged it, I probably wouldn't have gone into the military."

Now raising three small children herself, the career Air Force officer said she also would want to be a part of their eventual career decisions.

"I'd definitely want my children to come talk to me," she said. "I want to be involved in their life. And I would hope that they would trust me enough to have that conversation with me."

*Related Sites:*
Joint Advertising, Market Research and Studies  [ ]
Information on Military Service  [ ]
Defense Department News Release on New Advertising Campaign  [ ]
DoD Reaches Out to Parents in New Ad Campaign [ ]