Army misuses hip-hop culture in advertising

By Gus Bode

Loud as I want to be

During an episode of “Made” on MTV, a program that features life-changing personal transformations with the help of experts, the irresponsible network powers-who-be crossed the fine line between reality programming and advertisement.

The MTV advertisement in question:a mock commercial showing an imitation “Made” preview promoting the U.S. Army. “Want to get made?” it asked. To the average viewer, the advertisement could be seen as a commercial. Blurring the line between the Army, which should never be marketed like a soft drink or a pair of shoes, and a chic reality show de jour is a serious error in judgment.

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As if the Army is not peddled frequently enough in high schools and through television, Internet and the radio, recruiting has to be disguised as a television show?

And the problem is deeper than one isolated commercial on one network known for questionable judgment. In 2001 the Army fired its old marketing team and hired Chicago’s Leo Burnett, the firm responsible for the “Army of One” slogan, in an attempt to spur enlistment by promising personal responsibility. With the introduction of the Vital Marketing Group, the multicultural events marketing firm hired by the Army, an unethical campaign titled “Taking It to the Streets” was born.

While “Taking It to the Streets,” the Army joined forces with The Source, a magazine regarded as a pillar of the hip-hop community, to help recruit urban teenagers. A yellow Hummer outfitted with a state-of-the-art sound system, a graphic of two black men in uniform on the side and strategic video games appears three times a week, according to Salon.com, at events such as NAACP gatherings, MTV’s Spring Break, BET’s Spring Bling, and black fraternity and sorority gatherings nationwide. The Army offers prizes customized to the hip-hop culture, such as trucker hats, throwback jerseys and dog tags. These thinly disguised bribes promise a future that does not exist. Some troops in Iraq still are without running water. Is that revealed in the marketing plan?

Instead of pushing college scholarship initiatives, dedicating time and money to the improvement of impoverished schools and taking actions to promote and not pigeonhole black culture, The Source opted to sell hip-hop to the highest bidder, even though the buyer does not always represent the best interests of their constituency.

Now, not every person who enters the Army does so because of deceptive advertising like the “Made” commercial or because the Army gave him a sweatband. But to make sure young black men are exposed to the new “cool” Army, The Source has enticed those interested in hip-hop and exploited them by grossly misusing their influence.

The sneaky tactics employed by a group that supposedly parents the best men and women our country has to offer are beyond inappropriate given the dangerous nature of the position recruits are entering. There should be no tricks, no promises of plush Hummers that will never exist and no lies. People could die, and no amount of flashy graphics or “bling” will erase that pain.

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