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Rebranding strategies from the Military [Top Gun, Maverick and Devil Dog]

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‘I feel the need……The need for speed.’  – TopGun 1986

After the Vietnam war the US Navy was in a quandary. Their recruitment applications was way down and the not without reason. Desperately seeking to turn the situation the US Navy hit upon a novel idea to rebrand the organization and thus was created a sequence of events that led to the release of the 1986 blockbuster ‘TopGun’. Starring Tom Cruise as ‘Maverick’ Lt. Pete Mitchell rode into the hearts of millions of young men, including me as the role model that all men wanted to be. So joining the Navy was suddenly cool. Needless to say post the release of the movie the US Navy saw a 500% jump in applications.

A 1986 promo of the movie can be viewed here.

I believe this was one of the most ambitious rebranding exercises ever undertaken and was done very subtly. Since then the US Army has attempted a similar exercise in ‘Black Hawk Down’ and the original ‘Transformers’.

I discussed in an earlier piece that rebranding tried to change the associations in the minds of its prospects and Top Gun just managed to do that. Showing the human side of the Navy, and going beyond just aircrafts, the film managed to bring out the human element in the armed forces.

The movie also proved beneficial to the sunglasses industry with ‘Ray-Ban’ aviators becoming a craze among most young men.

Using movies to rebrand or brand an offering is not new. A good example is “Sex and the City 2” which is based in Abu Dhabi and is showcasing Abu Dhabi as the new gulf destination and an alternative to Dubai. Similarly the movie ‘Bunty aur Babli’ was used to launch the Maruti Suzuki ‘Swift’.

But can a fragrance be used to rebrand an institution? Again the US Marines have taken the lead on that by launching their own fragrance called Devil Dog.

The fragrance is another branding attempt from the Marines, it contains lime, agarwood, vanilla, cedar, mint accords, citrus, ozonic accord, orange, sugar, and sandalwood. Also the label says ‘Made in the US’. Another organization that has used fragrance effectively is Singapore Airlines, who got their own fragrance developed to spray in their aircrafts.

devil dog

I am not aware of many such initiatives by the Indian Army for example. I know they launched a series of advertisements, and also supported some movies like Lakshya and LOC.

So, I would like to hear from you if you know other examples of the military or armed forces using any rebranding techniques.

[Image Source]

  1. Dr Vikram says

    Hi Arun

    I am glad that they are paying attention. I have been wanting to ask you if I can see any analytics of the pieces that I have written, this would help me to choose articles and topics that work best with our readers.

    But I did not expect that corporates are paying attention. Thanks for the heads up and this makes things very interesting.

  2. Sumeet Kad says

    Hi Dr. Vikram. I guess this blog oy yours was read by Gillette. My eyeballs glued on first page of today’s Hindustan times where Gilette have displayed there Razor range of products on the backdrop of Indian army. They have also packaged the products in khaki green giving the feel og armu uniform. Moreover, they are also providing a philantrophic feel to the customers as every purchase they make , some contribution will got to the soldiers in need. And on each and every page of today;s edition they have few lines from celebrites from various walks of life discussing about the Heroes in their respective lives..Kudos to them…maybe more organizations can take a leaf out of Gillette’s book and bridge the gap between common poulation and army men..

    1. Dr Vikram says

      @Sumeet Thank you pointing out, and now this makes things interesting. Yesterday someone was discussing the Tide campaign to take washers to Hurricane Katrina victims. I am sure Gillette have struck a good cord as most Army men have to shave daily. On second thoughts maybe I should patent these ideas, what say @Arun?

      1. Arun Prabhudesai says

        Dear Dr. Vikram,

        Some of your ideas within the posts you write are seriously awesome and let me tell you from the analytics I see, most of the companies you have written about till now have seen what you have written.
        I can tell you because in analytics it shows me hits from their Social / CRM software (essentially that finds what people have written about their brands)…

        yes, your ideas are being noticed and probably taken action upon… hmm…

  3. Dr Vikram says

    @Kishalay that is an interesting angle, has Indian film industry totally missed the boat on the Indian army? I think this is an excellent opportunity so a fresh perspective on the Army lifestyle and how it is a good life vis-a-vis cosporate life.

  4. Dr Vikram says

    @Kishalay Its interesting that you brought up the bullet whizzing past the head. I was doing some research for this piece and one of the reasons that Army had such low applications in countries like Canada was the peace time work like building schools or doing community work that really was not attractive to the potential recruits. So I believe most recruits are drawn in by the adrenalin rush and the natural tendency of a soldier to get into a conflict.

    As per Top Gun, I loved the movie then and I still love it. As a matter of fact me a and friend when we bought our first bikes in college played Maverick and Iceman for a long time. But it is a great re branding strategy.

    1. Maj Vijish says

      Doc, interesting perspective…! Infact, Indian Army has failed in using the cinema as a mass medium to attract the cream of the talent available, a fact substantiated by the number of vacant seats at IMA and OTA (not least for lack of applicants, mind you, every year more than a lakh apply through CDS and only a handful get through). For one, the mass of the youth are unaware of the class of life the Army provides. It’s way better than the best that Corporate can offer – i should know :)
      In the US, you usually see their service personnel in uniform at most times – during travel, dinners and even on a date. We demure from that in the Indian scenario, not because we’re not proud to be Army officers – but as someone mentioned above- due to the extreme views that the people have – that and security of course, in J&K.
      When i first saw “Border” – nothing seemed amiss – it was only when i joined the Army i realised how messily it was made. Lakshya was way better – to some extend depicting the life of an officer – but without the actual frills.
      And you’re right about the peace time frills that one actually does – i really wanted to return to intense counter terrorist ops as soon as my Unit landed in Hyderabad for our peace posting after our J&K tenure.
      Actually there are some promotional activities that the Army undertakes – Sadbhavana -branding the Army in schools etc by providing infrastructure, computers etc and “winning the hearts and minds” of the populace. Use of mass media? – other than the one bright spark of “Do you have it in you” campaign – not seeing any other catchy ones.

      1. Dr Vikram says

        Hi Major

        That was a very good insight and something that most of us sitting outside don’t have. The army will never lower its standard but inability to attract the cream would continue to haunt them, maybe they should invest in a movie like Top Gun. Good insight on the Sadbhavana campaign as well.

        1. Kishalay says

          @Major – it cant get fresher then this….I always felt that the motivation to join the defence in India has been patriotism, but to attract the urban, high educated youth, I see the need of the “style” element.. Indian movies has yet concentrated on the “Love for the Country” theme, which shows war and rustic back ground; or something like Prahaar that shows a tough training schedule of the army. I guess its time when media should show, either through movies or documentary, a glamour and style quotient of defence force – what better than social media and youtube to channelize the events…

  5. Kishalay says

    Hi Doc, a great point of view. Rebranding is what we do when the existance of an entity isn’t particulary attractive !! The usage of media by US army or any defence force, to chanalize an aspect of the occupation is a good way to attract attention – but I would certainly not recommend a coverup !! As mentioned, movies like Lakshya or Top Gun have been cult and a certain decission drivers, but I would like to know would a movie generated emotions survive when the first bullet zooms past their ears…defence is a tough job and does envole a lot more then singing at the bar for Kelly McGillis or dating Preity Zinta !! My ethics might say a lot more but certainly “Top Gun” took my heart away…. :)

  6. Altaf Rahman says

    A very different article Dr. Vikram.
    However I beg to difer in theory. It may be true that US Navy sponcered the movie ‘Top Gun’ when it saw the chance to promote itself as a best employer. But it is not the first movie. Since end of Vietnam war, there are literally hundreds of movies based on Vietnam war. All are low cost, low on story movies and solely wanting to make people believe that US Army made lot of sacrifices in saving innocent poor Vietnamese from the clutches of Communist forces. If you keep releasing movie after movie with only one aim, slowly facts will be forgotten and people will start believing that movies are the truth.

    The reason why I am stressing this point is, I was fortunate enough to work in Vietnam and visited the historic Cu Chi area where the actual last war took place. As the guide explains I understood what actually happened there. US Army was carpet bombing the whole area. The intensity of bombing was so intense that the whole society lived under ground. They dug literally hundreds of kilometers of tunnels under ground. They used to run schools, hospitals, storage for food, ammunition, and military machinary in tunnels.

    In and around Ho Chi Minh City Viet forces casued so much loss to US Army that finally they surrendered and were given 24 hours to leave.

    Every one know that this is the only war that US did not win. Still all the movies made on the subject was in such a way that the western world believes to this day that US made lot of sacrifices to save poor viets and finally won.

    When I was touring the Cu Chi caves, we had some US tourists with us. I can not forget the expression on some of their faces when the guide was explaining how the veits fought and drove of US. Some of them were murmuring ‘but this is not true!!!’. Then I understood the power of media. Keep repeating a lie and after some time people believe the lie.

    Now coming to the point of rebranding issue, I am sure US Army or US govt might have sponcered all the war movies to rebrand US as the offended rather than offender. Out of the so many investments, the Top Gun investment might have been successful.

    But fragrances from Military?? Does not click with me. It sends out a wrong signal that may be they are running out of budget or may be govt reduced the budget and they are forced to sell perfumes to generate money for survival.

    Now before I finish my comment, a joke regarding Vietnam war which I heard when I was in Thailand.

    Question : What happened to those thousands of MIAs (Missing in action)
    in Vietnam?
    Answer : Actually no one is missing. All of them settled down in Sukhumvit area of Bangkok by opening businesses of night action :)

    Just my two paisa :)

    1. Dr Vikram says

      Hi Altaf

      I think you are spot on with your observations from Vietnam. In fact i would like to know more as being a military history buff, I have followed the conflict and I think the US got rogered there. As a matter of fact in a span of a few years the Vietnamese defeated France, US and China.

      But here I am looking at the US Navy as a commercial enterprise and see how they have applied the business/marketing concepts of re branding through this movie called Top Gun.
      The other great war movies on Vietnam always show the Americans in poor light including Full metal Jacket, Hamburger Hill, Platoon and Apocalypse Now. Films can be used for propaganda a activity that was started by Joseph Goebbels in war time Nazi Germany. But Top Gun I think emphasized on the human nature of the pilots and their personal lives and that was the key to its success.

      1. Dr Vikram says

        And to your point on the fragrance, there is concept called the five senses re branding where we re position that product or service based int eh five human senses. The fragrance is to re position the products from the sense of smell and the only other great example of this I know is Singapore airlines.

  7. Dr Vikram says

    @Sumeet that is a very good example and I have exploring the idea of using Bollywood to take Indian brands global. On the Indian army that was a very good example, please do let me know if you hear of anything from other armed forces.

  8. Sumeet Kad says

    Indian army has been branding and marketing themselves over the years through bollywood as rightly pointed by you. There is nothing like bollywood as a medium to get your message across masses. But to launch a product with Indian Army branding would take a lot of thought and application. The positioning of Indian army into the minds of the general population is mixed with extreme views. Though Indian army has been trying to form a bridge and connect with the people by awarding ranks and honors to various personalities who have excelled in their respective fields. For example, recently M.S. Dhoni and Abhinav Bindra have been commissioned as Honorary Lt Colonel in the Territorial Army. Maybe big MNC’s specially bigshots from Indian origin conglomerating with Indian government can take the initiative to launch brand “Indian Army”. This way they will get something to put under their CRS branch also.

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