War Veterans Open Up About Employment Challenges At Home In This Activision PSA

We may appreciate their service, but vets have more to offer on the home front.

The unemployment rate for post-9/11 American veterans is higher than their non-veteran peers and it’s likely just going to get worse as the Pentagon gets set to shrink the U.S. Army to around 450,000 members, down from a high of 570,000.


Activision and agency 72andSunny have created a spot for The Call of Duty Endowment (CODE) to raise awareness of the value vets bring to the workplace, as well as to some of the employment problems they face on the home front. CODE helps veterans find quality careers by supporting groups that prepare them for the job market. As one vet says, all the yellow ribbons, bumper stickers, and thank-yous are great, but a job would be better.

The partnership between the agency and video game company has yielded high-profile and high-production adstravaganzas, but this time the team toned it down and teamed with documentary director Amir Bar Lev for this Skype-style spot. Creative directors Josh Fell and Rey Andrade say that raw, honest feel of a Skype chat was the best way to tell the vets’ stories. “They didn’t need a Hollywood treatment to provide drama. Just for us to get out of the way,” Fell and Andrade told us via email. “We had a number of ideas for how to tell their story–some very high-production, more traditional filmic treatments–and ultimately we landed on the simple thought that there’s no one better to tell their stories than the veterans themselves. From their homes. Staring straight down the lens to America.”

Shot over three days of interviews, the ad introduces us to a diverse collection of vets all facing the same challenges. “The problem of veteran unemployment is really just that–a problem of failing to see these returning soldiers as people. Humans,” says Andrade. “Instead, it’s quite easy to think of them as numbers, faceless, broken, and fundamentally not like the rest of us. It makes their struggles mean just a little less.”

The challenge for the creatives and director was to strike just the right tone. “We didn’t want to be pleading. These guys don’t want a handout. They’re not broken,” says Fell. “We wanted to make sure we captured all sides of their humanity–their ability to laugh at the stereotypes, a hint of their frustration and anger, their confident humility in their own abilities–whatever they brought in the interviews. There’s an underlying current of strength in all of the veterans we spoke to, even as they’re asking for help.”

About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity. He lives in Toronto.