Recruiting advertisements: Towards the adventure

Recruiting advertisements have long been an object of study, although the focus, until recently, lay mostly on posters and military campaigns from the two World Wars. As an addition to a short film, this essay will look at commercials for military recruitment in several countries.

Since the 1970’s, military advertising has seen a shift from pointing young men and women to their duty of serving their country, to imaging the army as a place of individual opportunity – the army became a place to enhance oneself as a professional and as an individual, granting the soldier the possibility to swiftly make promotion, but also, to create personal development[1], to “expand one’s own borders and limits”.

This new message came with a new visual language.[2] Today’s ads portray soldiers and their jobs as an adventure, filled with sports, thrills and excitement. Several elements contribute to this. Firstly, most ads center around one individual – mostly a handsome, young man [3]– whom we, as viewers, follow on his journey towards becoming part of the army. The symbolic journey of this character is that of growing up – from being a boy to becoming a man. Thus, the ads ‘celebrate’ the myth of masculinity.[4][5][6] The growing up is also symbolized by training, sports and performing drills.

Secondly, this is supported by the text in the commercial, mostly in the form of a voice over. Via this text, we learn more about the inner struggles that the central individual faces. Thus, the ads feature a close relation between the visual aspect and the textual aspect.  A consequence of this is that the ads are characterized by a strong narrative character, appealing to the viewer in the sense that, if the viewer applies for the army, he or she can be ‘part of the story’.[7]

Thirdly, the ads depoliticize war.[8] This is due to the personal character, as discussed earlier, and the absence of, for example, battle sites, dead bodies[9], or any visual presence of the enemy.[10][11] War, in this type of advertising, is “unimaginable”. Therefore, the ads create a mythical world in which war does not seem to exist.[12]

Fourthly, the recruiting ads feature, symbolically, the elements water, earth, air and fire. This refers to the battle of the soldier, which is not only a battle with the eventual enemy, but mainly with himself and the elements.

Moreover, as can also be seen in the accompanying video essay, the ads bear a strong resemblance to visual representations of sports. In doing so, it portrays being a soldier and going to war as a game, a friendly challenge, in which one can push one’s boundaries and at the same time be part of a team. The emphasis on physical training and teamwork also rhymes with the target audience due to the fact that the armed forces seek people with a positive attitude towards sports and physical challenges.

In conclusion, as the accompanying film will also show, similar characteristics can be identified in military advertisements in different countries. There is a clear relation with personal development, sports and a myth of masculinity. Also, the aspect of adventure, the elements and the depoliticization of war are characteristics that appear throughout different countries with vastly different cultures.

By Jorrit Steenman, Paul Haseloop, Simon de Leeuw, Robin Goudsmit

Bibliography

Bailey, Beth. The army in the marketplace: recruiting an all-volunteer force. Harvard: Harvard University Press, 2009.
Brown, Melissa. Enlisting Masculinity. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.
Francher, Patricia. The pleasure of death: the construction of masculinity citizenship in military ads. In: Gnovis Journal, vol. 8, no. 2.
Hyman, Michael R.  and Richard Tansey. The ethics of psychoactive ads. In: Journal of Business Ethics, vol. 9, no. 2.
Mai Chen, Tina. Thinking through embeddedness: globalization, culture and the popular,  In: “Cultural Critique”, no. 58 (Autumn, 2004), p. 1-19.
Schornig, Niklas and Alexander C. Lembecke. The vision of war without causalities. In: The Journal of Conflict Resolution,Vol. 50, No. 2 (Apr., 2006), pp. 204-227.
Shlome Manon. Aesthetics of terror. In: Curating: Politics and display, no. 22 (Spring 2014).
Stahl. Roger.  Militainment, Inc: war, media and visual culture. New York: Routhledge, 2009.

[1] Beth Bailey, The army in the marketplace: recruiting an all-volunteer force, Harvard: Harvard University Press, 2009, p.67.

[2] Naturally, it is difficult here to argue what came first – a new visual language or a new message? Of course, it can be said that visuality shapes the message and vise versa.

[3] Although all the countries covered in this project allow women to apply for the army, almost none are covered in the videos that we discuss here.

[4] Melissa T. Brown, Enlisting Masculinity, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012, p. 5.

[5] Patricia Francher, The pleasure of death: the construction of masculinity citizenship in military ads, . In: Gnovis Journal, vol. 8, no. 2., p. 127.

[6] Michael R. Hyman and Richard Tansey. The ethics of psychoactive ads, in: Journal of Business Ethics, vol. 9, no. 2, p. 106.

[7] This sort of narrative has also been discussed by Matthew F. Rech with regard to 20th century comics in his article “Be part of the story: a popular geopolitics of war comics aesthetics and Royal Air Force Recruitment”.

[8] Roger Stahl, Militainment, Inc: war, media and visual culture, New York: Routhledge, 2009, p. 78.

[9]Niklas Schornig and Alexander C. Lembecke,The vision of war without causalities, in: The Journal of Conflict Resolution,Vol. 50, No. 2 (Apr., 2006), p. 205.

[10] Manon Shlome,  Aesthetics of terror. In: Curating: Politics and display, no. 22 (Spring 2014).

[11]Tina Mai Chen, Thinking through embeddedness: globalization, culture and the popular,  In: “Cultural Critique”, no 58 (Autumn, 2004), p. 14.

[12] Michael R. Hyman and Richard Tansey. The ethics of psychoactive ads, in: Journal of Business Ethics, vol. 9, no. 2, p. 107.
[12] Michael R. Hyman and Richard Tansey. The ethics of psychoactive ads, in: Journal of Business Ethics, vol. 9, no. 2, p. 107.

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