The Army is frantically moving to replace ads that featured an actor facing legal action ahead of what had been planned as a major campaign airing during the NCAA Final Four, a short-term fix that would be paired with recording new commercials this summer.
Instead of airing commercials with narration from actor Jonathan Majors, who is facing assault and harassment charges, the Army instead will air older commercials this weekend during one of America's largest sporting events of the year.
Military.com spoke with three Army officials with direct knowledge of the behind-the-scenes efforts to swiftly scrub Majors from the service's $117 million campaign. All of them said the news of his alleged domestic violence could not come at a worse time for the service, with carefully planned and expensive efforts being canned just days before a marketing blitz meant to buoy recruiting.
"We didn't catch a break here. … This stuff took a while to plan out. … Ads don't really get a lot of attention but, after last year's recruiting numbers, this campaign needed to work," one Army official with direct knowledge of marketing efforts told Military.com on the condition of anonymity. "We thought we had this nice plan for the [basketball] games."
On paper, Majors was a solid fit to be front and center of the Army's long planned recruiting pitch after an abysmal year trying to fill the ranks. He is one of Hollywood's hottest celebrities, with starring roles in two back-to-back blockbusters this year: "Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania" and "Creed III.”
"When the Army launched its new brand and 'Be All You Can Be' tagline earlier this month, it launched a multifaceted, multichannel national campaign to support it," Laura DeFrancisco, a spokesperson for the Army's marketing team, told Military.com. "The two ads featuring Jonathan Majors are only one piece of that campaign."
Majors was arraigned on several charges after allegedly strangling a woman in New York City, according to reporting from NPR, though his lawyer said the alleged victim has recanted her allegation.
In March, the service launched its "Be All You Can Be" campaign, dusting off an iconic motto with Majors at the center of costly commercials pitching Gen-Z to go to their nearest recruiting station. It wasn't just a quiet rollout of yet another Army commercial; there was a high-profile debut in Washington, D.C.. with all of the service's senior leaders, the press and other key stakeholders in attendance. A group of young applicants was even given the oath of enlistment at the launch event, formally bringing them into service.
The Army came up 15,000 soldiers short of its goal to bring in 60,000 new troops last year. This year, the service is aiming even higher with a goal of 65,000. The troubled recruiting has brought intense scrutiny from Capitol Hill and headlines at a time when the service is effectively remodeling itself to fight conventional war amid heightened tensions with China and Russia.
"Recruiting [numbers] were bad, we're in a deep hole, and this campaign was supposed to be a reset button," one of the Army officials said.
The selection of Majors came off the heels of two massive theatrical releases that featured the actor and in time to air during NCAA March Madness, netting nearly 1 million viewers per game, according to reporting from Sportico. TV ads run roughly $2.2 million each during the tournament; however, it's unclear how many ads the Army purchased and at what ad buy rate.
The Army will keep the slogan, which was also used in the 1980s and 1990s, and is moving forward with new ads for August. For the Final Four and other pre-planned advertising on TV and streaming services, the service is going back to its Passions campaign, which largely focuses on a diverse roster of individual soldiers, and its Know Your Army campaign, a series of pitches with job benefits like retirement and paid parental leave at its core.
-- Steve Beynon can be reached at Steve.Beynon@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StevenBeynon.