Recruiting issues speed up Army plan for ‘Be All You Can Be’ comeback

Faced with a recruiting crisis, the army dusted off one of its most popular slogans: “Be all you can be.” But will it prove popular with a new generation of potential recruits?


The army, which failed to recruit 25% of its personnel last year, launched a new marketing campaign. And while most of them are fresh, according to Jay Price from member station WUNC, one part is already familiar.

JAY PRICE, BYLINE: The Army has introduced their new brand of hissing coil. In it, commanders and other soldiers talk about the possibilities that the American offers and revives a slogan that the army has not used for over 20 years.


SARAH LEE SMITH-DANIELS: Be all you can be.

PRICE: Be all you can be. This iconic slogan ran for two decades in the 1980s and 90s, an eternity in advertising. It was originally accompanied by an irresistible ringing melody.


UNKNOWN MUSIC ARTIST: (Singing) Be all you can be. Find your future in the army.

PRICE: These original ads started running in 1981.

CHRISTINE WORMUTH: It’s a military commercial moment that people remember with nostalgia.

PRICE: Historian Beth Bailey is the author of The American Army: Building an All-Volunteer Force. The call had ended just a few years before. The army was still struggling with the all-volunteer shift, trying not only to find enough recruits but also to bring in more qualified ones. And he really wanted to solve the deep image problems left over from the Vietnam War.

BETH BAILEY: The move to a new recruiting slogan and a new recruiting campaign should have really reshaped the army.

PRICE: After a series of boring commercials, he settled on what is considered in the advertising world to be one of the greatest campaigns of the 20th century.


WORMUTH: Because America demands nothing less. So you can be everything you can be.

JAMES MCCONVILLE: Be all you can be.

MICHAEL GRINSTON: Be all you can be.

CRAIG LATIMORE: Be all you can be.

UNIDENTIFIED #1: Be all you can be.

UNIDENTIFIED #2: Be all you can be.

UNIDENTIFIED #3: Be all you can be.

UNIDENTIFIED #4: Be all you can be.

SMITH-DANIELS: Be all you can be.

PRICE: Now this line appears again in ads created for different times and different potential recruits. The rebrand had been in the works for years, but at the official opening, Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth said the rollout had been pushed back several months due to recruitment issues.

WORMUTH: We in the military and, frankly, in all military services are facing the most difficult recruiting situation in decades. So this is the perfect time to launch our new brand and as a kid of the 80s I’m really excited that we’re bringing back a reinvented version of who you can be.

PRICE: Despite the slogan’s nostalgic past, she said the redesign is based on solid market research. It showed that young people are looking for a sense of purpose and a way to build a community, so this phrase works for them, as well as for their parents and others who can influence their career decisions.

WORMUT: It wasn’t easy, let’s get back to what we all remember and love. It has been tested against other alternatives but has found a response. This caused the greatest resonance among viewers of all ages.

PRICE: Army leaders said the rebranding and marketing campaign also targets a cultural divide that has been widening for decades. Fewer families have ties to the military, leaving fewer young people familiar enough with it to consider conscription. Major General Alex Fink leads the Army’s marketing department.

ALEX FINK: This is more than a recruiting campaign. Brand renewal and creative expressions are designed to return America to its army.


JONATHAN MAJORS: And if you have a desire to make the world a better place, there is a place for you in the army.

PRICE: The new campaign is just one way the army is solving the recruiting problem. It also offers recruiter incentives, big bonuses for new soldiers, and promotions for some military personnel who send new recruits. But recruiters are still short of work. Their target number this year is even higher than last year. For NPR news, I’m Jay Price.

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