How To Make An Ad For The Marines Aimed At Recruiting Women

JWT Atlanta chief creative officer Vann Graves on creating The Marine Corps’ first female-led ad, the Rambo-Bono gap, and more.

How To Make An Ad For The Marines Aimed At Recruiting Women

Last week, the Marines Corps unveiled its first-ever, female-led recruitment ad. The spot “Battle Up,” created by agency JWT Atlanta, chronicles one officer’s journey from schoolgirl to athlete to soldier and beyond. It stars a real Marine, Capt. Erin Demchko, who served in Afghanistan, and is currently a deputy commander at Camp Courtney in Okinawa, Japan.


The ad comes at an interesting time for the Corps, which is not long from a scandal in which hundreds of service members shared illicit photos of their female counterparts on a Facebook group. Overall, out of 183,000 members, about 8.3% of the Marine Corps is female. That is the U.S. military’s lowest percentage of women, and the Corps wants at least 10% representation by 2019.

JWT Atlanta chief creative officer Vann Graves says the new Battles Won strategy, which launched last month with a spot focused on the Marine Corps legacy, revolves around  the Marines’ indomitable fighting spirit they use to engage and defeat all enemies, figurative and literal. And this new ad is no exception.

“When the Marine Corps asked how we should make an ad to appeal to women, we knew that the way to do this wasn’t to make a female ad, but to make a Marine ad that shows the various battles someone who joins the Marines would fight. It just so happened to feature a female,” says Graves.

The agency’s approach to a female-focused ad wasn’t any different from other efforts for the Corps. But Graves says they did have to pay close attention to how the Marine Corps is currently structured. They couldn’t make the Marine an Infantry Officer because no woman has yet passed the Infantry Officer’s course at Officers’ Candidate School. They also had to chose a battle scenario that a non-Infantry Officer might face, in this case, Logistic Officers encountered and fought roadside ambushes in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“We also needed to show how her fighting spirit could be manifested before, during, and after her time in the Marine Corps,” says Graves. “So we used scenarios that tackled real issues such as bullying or homelessness. In the end, our litmus test was would this commercial work just as well for a male as it does for a female? The answer was most definitely.”


Marine recruitment isn’t like selling shampoo. Signing up is a profound decision for anyone to make. Graves says the primary consumer insight behind the ad is that for a decision of this magnitude, they don’t treat potential prospects as consumers at all, they’re citizens. “This is where our industry can sometimes fail civic brands by trying to bribe or incentivize people into doing their civic duty,” says Graves. “Put another way: consumers don’t go to war, citizens do. So we took what the Marine Corps is about and translated their story in a way that we expect will get people to aspire to be the kinds of citizens the Marine Corps needs.”

The other citizen insight is that there are two kinds of service in this country, what Graves calls the blood and soil patriot culture, and the community service-global citizen culture. “We call this the Rambo-Bono gap,” says Graves. “The Marines need to bridge this gap to attract a broad cross-section of highly qualified youth. By emphasizing the fighting spirit, we can bridge this gap without minimizing the elite warrior nature of the brand.”

Perhaps predictably, the spot has been met with both praise and critics jeering it for political correctness. But the Marine Corps is meeting the jeers head on across social media. The BBC quoted Facebook commenter Chris Clark, “Had to be a chick…tired of all this political correct bull****… now let all the man haters come out of the woodwork…”

And the Marine Corps reply, “That’s not a ‘chick’, Chris. You’re watching a Marine.”

About the author

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