MCAS Rose Garden ~ Lynn Anderson's Salute to the U.S. Marine Corps
Historians will tell you that many of the most aggressive campaigns in military history were not those battles across lands and seas for domination or territorial expansion, but the battles for hearts and minds.
As the official advertising agency for the U.S, Marine Corps since 1947, J Walter Thompson had been battling for Marine hearts and minds for nearly a quarter century. They’d been responsible for creating the Corp’s most memorable recruitment slogans: The Few. The Proud. The Marines. We’re Looking for a Few Good Men--and more. Iconic, powerful proverbs designed to create the belief that men who valued armed service in general, and the Marines in particular, were America’s last, best hope.
But in 1970, America was a nation in flux. Social norms were changing by the hour. The Counterculture was becoming the new culture. Southeast Asia was burning from both ends and Americans were at war with each other. We were a nation divided. Old guards were falling away and the very underpinnings of who and what we had long believed and been taught we were--as a country and a people--were crumbling. Driving virtually every change was a war that was becoming more and more unpopular by the day. A war halfway across the globe in a country that was the size of California. A war that was undeclared, barely two years old, and had already claimed the lives of more than 50,000 American troops.
Armed Forces recruitment was at its lowest ebb, and draftees were fleeing the country. In 1970, finding even a couple of ‘good men’, as defined by the Marine Corps, anyway, required a whole new mindset and mission plan; one every other branch of the service knew they had to undertake as well. But how each approached the issue was the critical difference.
“It was definitely a battle for hearts and minds,” recalled a former JWT exec. “It wasn’t The Army anymore, it was The New Army. And in The New Army, you could be all you can be. The Navy was gearing their recruitment ads to look like travelogues, and the Air Force made it look like flying fighters still got you home on the weekend.” Hair, lifestyle and conformity were no longer important. Individuality was prized. In this new battle for hearts and minds, the war was in the trenches of Madison Avenue, fought ruthlessly by battalions of Mad Men using the most lethal of ammunition: ideas.
The idea for The Army, Navy and Air Force was to appeal to this new generation of military-aged men; a generation changing politically, socially, sexually and culturally by the day. Focus groups were held, norms and numbers researched, markets and demographics tracked—all using budgets and manpower that rivaled their counterparts in uniforms. Entire campaigns were created showing us all the New Military in America; a kinder, gentler military that…cared about you. A new military that wanted you to know ‘you can be someone special’ that wanted to be a part of you, of your free and new lifestyle, and the music that made you who you were. Radio and television commercials flew out of production houses like ICBM’s, with soundtracks from Diana Ross, Dionne Warwick and others, imploring sailors, soldiers, airmen and high school graduates to ‘reach out and touch somebody’s hand, and make this a better world, if you can.’
But the Marines weren’t buying it. Yes, recruitment and morale were down. Yes, they needed a campaign designed to reverse both. But that was where they drew the line in the sand. Where the Army, Navy and Air Force were aggressively trying to change their identity, the Corps chose a different strategy. This new campaign would reinforce that identity. Emboss it…etch it in stone…burn it into America’s collective consciousness, and separate the Corps from America’s ‘new’ military in every way, shape and form. In a world where everything was changing so fast you weren’t sure what was what anymore, this campaign would show beyond any doubt that there was still one thing America and the world could count on to stay the course; the US Marines.
“In the view of the Corps, the other branches’ recruitment campaigns were weakening America’s fighting forces. But they knew that the tide of the changes in the country was rising. They weren’t blind. They needed us to find a way to use a pop culture element as the message; that the Corps wasn’t going to make recruits promises that they couldn’t keep.”
They didn’t have to look—or listen—far for inspiration. And it came in the form of Lynn Anderson.
Released in October of 1970, “I Never Promised You a Rose Garden” quickly became one of the most popular country and pop songs in the nation. A song with a defined, resolute message: that real life was real life. That you take the good with the bad. That nobody’s promising you a bed of roses.
The message was tailor-made for the Marine Corps. All J. Walter Thompson needed was a face to go with the message. And it didn’t take them long to find it. Screening footage and photographs taken by a Marine reservist recently hired by the agency, the team came upon a series of stills of a Drill Instructor at the Parris Island base literally inches away from a fresh recruit’s face, giving him, what the Corps affectionately called an attitude readjustment. Jaws clenched, lips pursed, eyes like a pair of lasers locked and loaded on the petrified recruit facing him. His name was Sgt. Charles Taliano, and in that 20th floor conference room on Madison Avenue, his image leaped off the table; an image that might’ve been taken half a century before. An image that conveyed perfectly the strength, resolve and unwavering, unchanging commitment of the Marine Corps.
Inspired by one of country music’s most legendary songs and singers, the ‘We Don’t Promise You A Rose Garden’ campaign went on to become one of Madison Avenue’s most successful ad campaigns, reversing the recruitment shortfall, making Sgt. Chuck Taliano the undisputed face of the Corps, and forever linking Lynn Anderson with the United States Marine Corps.