In 1973, the military draft ended and every branch of the armed forces had no choice but to ramp up their recruiting efforts. Many memorable slogans have emerged since then: “Be all you can be” for the Army, “The few, the proud, the Marines,” and the current Air Force slogan, “Aim high.”
During this time, the Navy has been through a series of slogans, some long-lived, some not. In 1973, they introduced “Be someone special,” which was replaced in 1976 by their longest-running and likely best-known, “Navy: It’s not just a job, it’s an adventure.” In hindsight, the next slogan, “Live the Adventure,” which was introduced in 1986, was a lackluster derivative of its predecessors and was soon replaced in 1988 by an equally tractionless “You are Tomorrow; You are the Navy.”
A somewhat more durable line, “You and the Navy Full Speed Ahead” ran from 1990 to 1996, and “Let the Journey Begin” lasted from 1996 until about 2000. “Navy, Accelerate Your Life” ran from 2001 through 2009. (Of all these Navy taglines, I must confess, I remember only, “It’s not just a job…”)
Which brings us to the most recent, but no longer current slogan, “America’s Navy – A global force for good.” This tagline ran from 2009 until late 2014 when it was symbolically omitted from a Navy TV spot that ran during the Army Navy football game. Current Navy marketing simply ends with “America’s Navy,” which is short and sweet, but more of a label than a line that frames a message or a brand.
On the surface, it’s easy to take a guess at why “Global force for good” didn’t have a strong appeal. The best-known, and longest-running, slogans mentioned above all address the individual potential recruit. They all try to answer the basic question of “What’s in it for me?” that a recruit is likely to be thinking as he or she decides whether to enlist. “Global force for good,” doesn’t do that. Its message is more about being part (a small part) of something that is global and does “good,” but how the individual fits into that is less clear. The tagline may have been a genuine attempt to put a softer side on what can be a very sharp stick, as you can see in a recent headline for the Navy, where they describe themselves as “A global force with a human touch.” Here are some lessons that Navy’s tagline history suggests:
- Avoid tinkering with a good slogan—just because a tagline is memorable, doesn’t mean it’s great, but changing “It’s not just a job, it’s an adventure” to “Live the adventure” clearly didn’t work, even if it was more concise. Keeping a piece of the old slogan language is often confusing. If a tagline is past its prime, replace the whole line.
- Watch out for the slogan merry-go-round—the Navy has several taglines that lasted only about two years, which is hardly enough time to really establish a concept, even with an ad budget that is estimated at around $250 million a year. This can put any brand manager in a tough bind if they feel their slogan is weak or off target. Changing taglines every year or two is a waste of money, while sticking with a tagline you no longer believe is effective is painful as well, so…
- …sometimes no slogan is better than a bad one—The Navy appears to have made this choice, at least for the interim, as they have dropped “Global force for good” and are using only “America’s Navy,” which, as a descriptor, is obviously unnecessary, although its connotation is patriotic. Apple has had some memorable taglines over the years, including “Think different,” but currently does not use any tagline. Of course, Apple is an uberbrand with such incredible brand strength that it can afford to think differently and can skip a slogan if it wants to.
A common misconception is that a tagline is the brand. You get a logo, slap a tagline under it and, hooray, you have a brand. And this is simply not true. Taglines can be a beautiful summation of a brand’s essence, they can be a descriptor of what your company does or believes in, they can be a snippet of personal ethos to bond with (“Just do it” comes to mind), but slogans are just the beginning of a brand and are not even mandatory. And, to paraphrase a classic, sometimes finding a great tagline is not just a job, it’s an adventure.
As published in the Central Penn Business Journal and Lehigh Valley Business.