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Marines change recruiting pitch to include humanitarian missions

March 09, 2012|By Tony Perry
  • The U.S. Marine Corps is reaching out to a new breed of potential recruits by emphasizing the humanitarian aspect of its mission. Shown here is an image from a new ad.
The U.S. Marine Corps is reaching out to a new breed of potential recruits… (U.S. Marine Corps )

Reporting from San Diego — After a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Marine Corps is tweaking its recruiting pitch to emphasize not just combat prowess but also the Marines’ involvement in humanitarian missions.

A new 60-second television commercial, “Toward the Sounds of Chaos,” is set to make its debut on ESPN during Saturday’s Big 12 championship basketball game. A shortened version will be shown in theaters. Similarly themed materials will be deployed to social media sites and recruiters’ offices.

Filmed at Camp Pendleton near San Diego, the commercial reinforces the Marines’ image as a fighting force ready to confront  America’s enemies  "at a moment’s notice." But it also subtly suggests that the Marines are equally ready to help when disaster, natural or man-made, strikes.

The same message is delivered more overtly on the Marine Corps website, which includes mini-videos of Marines in earthquake-stricken Haiti and tsunami-ravaged Japan. (There's also a video of Marines fighting Taliban in Afghanistan.)

The television commercial and other materials are the result of polling and research done by advertising firms that produce the Marine Corps’ recruiting materials: J. Walter Thompson and Hill-Knowlton Strategies, both headquartered in New York. The Marine Corps has an annual advertising budget of approximately $100 million.

The Marines found that the patriotic lure of joining a military force that prides itself on being "first to fight" remains strong among a segment of American youth.

But a second philosophy has emerged among young people who admire the U.S. military but are equally attracted to the chance to be involved in humanitarian missions as they are the chance to fight against terrorists.  Emphasizing the humanitarian missions could persuade those potential recruits to choose the Marine Corps rather than college, Marine leaders hope.

The new commercial  is meant to emphasize to the target audience -- young people from 17 to 24 years old -- that “it is going to be a chaotic future with a lot of unknowns,” said Brig. Gen. Joseph Osterman, commanding general for the Marine Corps Recruiting Command.

“As we wind down in Afghanistan,” Osterman said, “we want to answer the question:  ‘Is the Marine Corps still an exciting place to be?’ The answer is obviously yes.”

Marines are seen hurrying ashore from landing craft as Marine jets and helicopters soar overhead. Screaming can be heard, including a woman calling for help. In the background is a dark cloud, symbolizing the unknown, said Marshall Lauck, director of the Marine account at J. Walter Thompson.

“When the time comes, we’re the first to move toward the sound of tyranny, injustice and despair,” says the narrator. Trucks with boxes labeled “AID” come off landing craft and are rapidly driven inland.

While the scenario in the commercial is scripted -- including the dark smoke and screaming -- the people are authentic.

“All Marines, no actors,” Lauck said.

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tony.perry@latimes.com

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