Some of the oldest marketing campaigns have been about the military. Sometimes people had a choice about whether or not to join, but most frequently it was to keep motivated the people who were already enlisted when they would otherwise be demoralized.
Studying the marketing of war is interesting because often it is where the state’s claims of ultimate authority become clear, and it is where a leader’s ultimate desires are obvious. The values of a nation have to be presented to the general population in bite-sized chunks. The ruling parties have to make their case that they are better than the powers that threaten the people.
But it doesn’t always work that way…
Ironically, people who end up fighting against each other are usually recruited with very similar messages: fighting is cool, maintain peace and prosperity for the place you come from, ect. Below are some military recruitment videos that I thought were interesting. These videos show that most countries don’t mention their values. If these videos show the trajectories of interventionist foreign policy — and they all claim to show interventions in their advertisements — then the future of international conflict looks ominous.
Are you a person of action? Of course you are, especially if you lived in the year 1962. The baby-boomers were becoming teenagers, the space-race was just heating up, and the US was winning the war in Vietnam. This was the beginning of when the United States began recruiting people for the military without attempting to justify the fighting.
This might be seen as horrifying, but it could also be seen as a form of progress. The American military advertisements in the 60’s at least were not as overtly racist as previous campaigns had been during World War II, specifically against the Japanese.
Is the invisible enemy better or worse than the misrepresented, vilified people group? Is this progress?
Since the Trump presidency, the United States’s advertisements have begun to sound a lot more like its President. Right now the United States isn’t making many claims about moral high-ground, human rights, or international peacemaking.
This video follows the Western template of military recruiting. Driving music with visuals that could come from an action movie are combined with a general story about becoming a better person, and coming of age.
“No one can stop you. You are the power of a new era. Receive the national flag to keep it flying. Those eager eyes affirm our faith. Use this honorable dream to cast new badges.” The translation is a bit rough, but I found it really interesting that besides mentioning the country of China, the primary value that is mentioned is power. The title of the video itself is called, “The Power of China,” and the message seems to be: Join the Chinese army to become more powerful. It is actually pretty similar to the American claims about winning.
Because this advertisement does not name a specific enemy it may not seem as threatening. And that an advertisement about the Chinese military is presented as a Rock-and-Roll music video already shows a radical openness to American cultural influences.
But the shadow-side to this message is obvious when you consider what happens when two sides who care primarily about winning come up against one another. There is no principle or ideology explicitly being fought over; just ego. Possible arenas of dispute between the world’s two largest economic countries include continued trade wars, cyberwarfare, and the South China Sea.
Another obvious thing to consider is that when countries talk about power and winning, other countries must experience powerlessness and losing. This radical difference in messaging is illustrated in Ukranian military advertisements, where the War in Donbass is an active conflict today.
There is a noticeable difference in how war is marketed to people who are actually experiencing the direct effects of it every day. For people fighting at home, war is not presented as a matter of choice.
This commercial is emotional, sad, and makes the cinematic move completely foreign to most military advertisements: actually showing people injured because of war. The point seems to be that nobody really wants to be fighting, and they’re all really just regular people.
And who are these Ukranians fighting against? Turn on subtitles (cc) if you want a translation of the narration.
The Russian video is interesting because it remains the most publicly idealistic of the world’s strongest military forces. Like the other countries where signing up for war is optional, it mentions personal improvement at the beginning, but it also talks about safety, loyalty, honor, and responsibility. Later it makes the claims to peace and love, which are commonly cited Communist ideals, but it also throws in freedom, since freedom is something everyone likes talking about.
The reality is that for the instigator of a conflict — for every video of someone shooting a gun or launching a bomb — there is an enemy target that needs to remain invisible. Otherwise the full picture is open for examination and critique, and the visions of honor and virtue in the fight are shattered.
And the realest picture comes from the perspective of the country being attacked. For them there is no luxury of illusion.