New Recruits

An Asian face for the Army of One

June 1, 2003

Last January, an Asian face graced the most American of advertising campaigns: recruitment print ads for the United States Army. In 2000, the United States Army signed a contract with advertising biggie Leo Burnett Worldwide in a bid to brand their logo and increase enlistment numbers, especially among blacks, Latinos and Asian Americans.

Along with its considerable advertising clout, Leo Burnett Worldwide offered its partnerships with minority advertising agencies like Spanish-language firm Cartel Creativo, African American-owned firm IMAGES USA and Asian-owned firm New-A.

The result of this multi-million dollar contract is the “Army of One” campaign, which seeks to portray myriad faces, experiences and ethnicities in the army. In particular, the latest print ads feature an Asian American soldier standing alongside his fellow white soldier with the caption, “Being a soldier means somebody’s always got your back.”

Though Pat Lafferty, VP accounts director of Leo Burnett USA, denied that the use of an Asian soldier was deliberately aimed at Asian Americans, he conceded that there was a conscious effort to appeal to youths who would identify with the soldiers in the ad.

“By showing diverse people, we will appeal to diverse groups of people. Asian Americans are certainly part of that equation,” Lafferty said. “We’re human beings and we like to see people like us. Whether that means people who dress like us, talk like us, have the same skin tone or the same experience, we are human beings and we respond to identifying those similarities. Marketers are attuned to that and are tapping into those insights.”

Marketing to specific ethnic groups is likely 
to increase as ad agencies such as New-A implement niche advertising agendas. According to 
New-A Director for Business Development and Client Services Yi-Ping Lee, New-A was founded in 2000 out of a desire to access a growing Asian American community with lots of buying power. Though not directly involved in the “Army of One” campaign, the business is based on the desire of mainstream marketers to exploit niche language and cultural groups.

“I would say that the trend is that Asians are slowly making headway in sports and beauty/health ads. Traditionally, they have been featured more in computer/IT, pharmaceutical and some financial services in mainstream print advertising,” said Lee.

Yet, while the Asian population of North America steadily grows, it seems that advertising use of Asians is spotty at best. Neal Hamil, executive vice president at Ford Models Inc., reports no increase in the demand for Asian models. “I have not seen any increase in the use of Asian models in the marketplace in the past five years,” he says. “Asian people are underrepresented in fashion and advertising in North America.” 

Rhea Wong did not send us her bio, but we suspect she lives in San Francisco.

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