An estimated 150 school and college students demonstrated March 28 outside the Leo Burnett building at Wacker and Dearborn, protesting the agency’s “Army of One” ad campaign, which they charge is deceptive and aggressively targets low-income African American and Latino youth for U.S. Army recruitment.
Protesters were the Chicago Students for Social Action, a youth action-network concerned with such predominant problems as war and racism?two issues they claim are merged in the Army’s $150 million advertising campaign.
They assert the Army ads deceptively depict military service as “fun and adventurous” and that “the Army is a place where individual growth and achievement is possible.” Since the Iraqi invasion began, however, the Army has changed its focus to commitment to country from individual benefits.
The S4SJ also protested the Army’s recent renewal of the account, calling the agency, like Boeing, “a war profiteer.”
“The award-winning campaign, ‘An Army of One’ uses heavy metal music, video games and slick TV commercials to target Generation Y youth, with special emphasis on African-Americans and Latinos,” said S4SJ member Eric Peters, correctly, since 18 to 24-year olds are the proper recruitment age-group.
Advertising newsletter editor Jack Myers also sees “a big chunk of this audience (being targeted) is a video game audience. It’s almost a sense of bringing video games they’ve been engaged in to life, that is, conflict. That’s really the message: the opportunity to participate, be part of it.”
Young men and women have apparently responded to the appeal of the three-year old Army broadcast and Web campaign, crediting it with helping to exceed its goal of 75,000 active-duty recruits.
With the start of the Iraqi war, the Army switched strategy and retired specific training and skills spots in favor of two inspirational commercials that bowed last week on youth-oriented CBS’ college basketball tournament.
“Creed” and “Victors” were filmed at Ft. Hood, Texas with hundreds of soldiers and contain themes of patriotism, courage and victory. The spots are scored with rousing patriotic music and carry the familiar “Army of One” tag.
The Army is considering buying more airtime.
The March 28 demonstration at the Burnett building was not the S4SJ’s first. The French-owned flagship agency was singled out Feb. 21 when SSJ protesters started “a sustained campaign to expose Leo Burnett as a war profiteer.”
During a March 19 demonstration, Eric Peters, a UIC student, and a fellow activist were arrested after the group wrote anti-war slogans on the sidewalk in front of the buildings. Peters spent six hours in jail after being charged with criminal defacement of property.
Earlier, police arrested two women activists after they entered the building to conduct a ?people’s inspection’ of Burnett for war profiteering.
On two occasions the agency declined to meet with S4SJ leaders who requested speaking to a representative to talk about the ethical considerations that had gone into the campaign.
S4SJ is also engaged in an aggressive anti-military campaign to enter high schools to provide students with alternatives to careers in the military and funding for their education.
Extra: The Feb. 21 Leo Burnett-SSJ protest will be aired over CAN, cable Ch. 19, April 2 at noon, and on April 5 at 10 p.m.