The new ad comes as the service has struggled to appeal to Gen Z and off the heels of the worst recruiting year in its history, coming up 15,000 soldiers short of its goal of 60,000 new recruits. Service leaders have even more ambitious recruiting goals this year, aiming for 65,000 new enlistees.
"It has never been more important to recruit and retain the talented men and women who make our Army the world's greatest fighting force," the service's top enlisted leader, Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Grinston; the Army's top officer, Gen. James McConville; and Army Secretary Christine Wormuth said in a joint statement. "People are the United States Army's greatest strength and our number one priority. They enable us to fulfill our very purpose: protecting our Nation by being ready to fight and win the Nation's wars."
The new ad ditches the slick "What's Your Warrior" marketing effort, which pitched young Americans to enlist into a force with a diverse range of high-tech fields, largely sidelining combat arms roles that make up an extreme minority of jobs in the service in favor of promoting skills translatable to the civilian tech sector.
Instead, the new ad centers around the Army's combat role featuring soldiers training with weapons and largely focused on troops in the field. The shift in tone comes as U.S. fighting in the Middle East and Africa has tamped down after two decades of the Global War on Terrorism. Gone are any mentions of big-ticket benefits such as free college tuition and a Department of Veterans Affairs-backed home loan, programs that had been a focal point of recent Army pitches.
"I think if someone is after something strictly monetary, there are other options, but this highlights a call to service," Katherine Kuzminski, a military policy expert at Center for a New American Security, a Washington D.C.-based think tank, told Military.com. "For cyber, there is no bonus that can be offered that a tech company cannot provide. But showing how military service is unique can do something that increases interest."
Even during an era when the Army emphasized benefits and training, the service never totally ignored showing off its warfighting mission in its marketing. The 75th Ranger Regiment, for example, has a very active YouTube presence which it uses to court potential applicants to try out for the elite infantry unit. But the primary push from the service in recent years has centered on countering public perception that serving in the military automatically involves an inherently dangerous job. Army officials have said that safety concerns have been the top driver of recruiting headwinds.
The service has also made other appeals to Gen Z, including an ad campaign highlighting a diverse group of real-world soldiers, including one with two mothers that spurred the ire among right-wing media.
Early recruiting numbers from this year show the Army might be on track to meet its quota. But the service is facing an amalgamation of issues getting new troops to enlist, many of which are outside of the Pentagon's direct control -- mostly an obesity crisis and poor performance on the military's entrance exam leaving the bulk of young Americans ineligible to serve. The Army has responded by expanding pre-basic training courses for applicants who come up short on body fat or academic standards for enlistment.
Even if new ads appeal to young Americans, reaching them is its own struggle as the military is largely forbidden from using TikTok out of concern the Chinese-owned app could be used for spying. Nonetheless, it's the platform of choice for the majority of Gen Z, with roughly 50 million to 80 million active users in the U.S.
-- Steve Beynon can be reached at Steve.Beynon@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StevenBeynon.