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Ken Levine

Ken Levine

Posted: March 27, 2007 02:40 PM

How to Sell the Army Reserves


Talk about an adman's nightmare - try selling the U.S. Army Reserves. It had to be easier getting people into Taco Bell after the e. coli scare. You sure can't advertise on the news because your audience is anyone who has never seen the news in their lives. And the selling points just don't hold up anymore.

Feel good about yourself, serve your country - in a futile war with no chance of victory and no actual goal in sight? General Custer wants you!

Learn a skill - coping with constant fear, confusion, and rage? Unless you want to become a comedy writer I don't see this as an ideal option.

Serve your country and community - Scratch community since you'll be called to active duty the minute you sign the dotted line ( "X" is considered a legitimate signature. In fact, it's preferred.).

Make extra money - It's not extra when it's your full-time job. And you can't exactly quit if you're unhappy. Or unionize.

Receive benefits when you get out - Yes, only servicemen are admitted to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

And then there's the fine print. The military can extend your tour of duty, assign you where they want, and what good are "camouflage" jungle fatigues in the desert???

Madison Avenue has a Herculean task ahead but at least the USAR isn't trying to solve the problem themselves. They've tried that in the past. I was a part of one such brainstorm.

Staging a musical.

Back in the 70's I was in an Armed Forces Radio Reserve unit (my draft number was 4) and to get reservists to re-enlist some General had the bright idea that maybe a stage show of singing, dancing weekend warriors with no training or talent would entice them to sign up for another six years. This same General had devised battle strategy for Viet Nam.

Our unit was assigned this task. A group of us had three days to write an entire musical. It did not win a Tony. We chose a take-off of WEST SIDE STORY. Our songs included "Re-Up" ("I just met a soldier who re-upped..."), "I Feel Pity" (for anyone not making that extra forty dollars a month), "Office Candidate", and "Somewhere" ("Somewhere there's a place for us...in the reserves.") I hope Sondheim isn't reading this.

For the next THREE years five of us fighting thesps went around to reserve battalions on the west coast and performed this extravaganza, usually to crowds of 200 utterly mystified soldiers in short haired wigs who sat wide-eyed with their jaws on the ground.

I'd say roughly 4,000 people saw this show performed. The number of troops who re-upped as a result? Zero.

Maybe the problem was we just had the wrong musical. I say it's worth a revival. How about new lyrics for WICKED? Although I imagine the army itself and not the reserves would want to utilize that. It's a chance for them to enlist mothers and daughters as well. And at this point, they'll take anybody.

You can read more from Ken at kenlevine.blogspot.com