Marines target March Madness in recruiting campaign

'We've seen walls before. They always fall,' Marine ad says

With college basketball fans eagerly awaiting March Madness, the Marine Corps plans to use the popular NCAA tournament to persuade America’s youth to forsake the comfort and safety of civilian life.

Two new recruiting commercials will debut during the championship tournament that begins Tuesday: “Wall” and “The Land We Love.”

Late-season basketball is a coveted ad buy for the corps, which has an unbroken two-decade record of meeting recruitment goals, even in years of combat.

The new commercials, and an earlier one that debuted during the Big 12 championship in 2012, will run in rotation at collegiate basketball games, Major League Baseball games, NBA games and the cable channels MTV, Fuse and Comedy Central.

The Marines have budgeted $11.6 million for television time and social media videos from January through June. They will gauge social media feedback to determine which of the three commercials is having greater appeal among the target audience of 17- to 24-year-olds.

The new commercials are each 30 seconds; the older one is 60 seconds. Attention spans are shrinking in the digital age, researchers say.

Unlike the Army, whose recruiting pitch promotes military service as a way to earn money for college or learn a skill that will lead to a civilian job, the Marines use a more forceful approach. 

“We don’t sell money for college and all that stuff; we talk about leadership, commitment, selfless service” said Col. Robert Golden, chief of staff for the Marines Recruiting Command.

“Wall” is a fictional display of combat power, with visuals that look and sound like Iraq or Afghanistan – a mud wall, blowing sand, a burned-out vehicle, bleating farm animals. In reality, the commercial was staged at Camp Pendleton.

“We’ve seen walls before,” an unseen narrator says as a gaping hole is blasted in a wall and Marines rush through, M-16s firing. “They always fall.”

This is no subtle message: The Marines’ mission is ground combat.

The second commercial, “The Land We Love,” is more nuanced, linking military service to public service on the home front, sports, the Lincoln Memorial, voting, flag-waving and determination to rescue women and children from danger. Seventeen mini-film clips rush by, accompanied by upbeat music.

Surveys done by the Marine Corps and its longtime advertising agency, J. Walter Thompson, have shown that many in the millennial generation respond more quickly to populist symbols of patriotism and public service than to raw displays of military power, and that they can assimilate messages embedded in quickly moving images backed by music.

The initial setting for “The Land We Love” is a subway car. A well-dressed man asks an unseen Marine, “Why the Marines?” A male millennial sits nearby with his computer tablet and shows no interest in the question.

The images fly by on the screen, then the unseen Marine answers, “Because this is the land I love, the country I’m honored to serve.” The millennial in the corner is paying attention now. So is a woman sitting next to him.

The narrator in “Wall” is actor Billy Brown, whose credits include roles in “Dexter,” “Law & Order,” and “CSI: New York.” The questioner in “The Land We Love” is actor Jerome Brooks, whose credits include “The Wire,” “Life on the Street” and “Sons of Anarchy.”

All the Marines are real Marines. The unseen Marine who answers the question, “Why the Marines?,” is 1st Lt. Gabriel Adibe, stationed at Miramar Marine Corps Air Station in San Diego.

Before the scene shifts back to the subway car, the final film clips show Marines breaking down a barricaded door and rescuing terrified women and children from some unspecified threat.

That’s intentional, Golden said. “Our brand is still breaking down doors, taking down bad guys, rescuing people.”

Twitter: @LATsandiego

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