Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Advertising with A Bang: Marketing Big Boys’ Toys Keeps the Sass Up.

On April 2nd 2003, during the second Gulf war, a hundred or so Iraqi armoured vehicles approached a far smaller American reconnaissance unit south of Baghdad…A B-52 bomber attacked the first 30 or so vehicles in the column with a single, historic pass. It dropped two new CBU-105 bombs…

While falling, the CBU-105 bombs propped open, each releasing ten submunitions which were slowed by parachutes. Each one of these used mini rockets to spin and eject outward four discs the size of ice-hockey pucks…

The 80 free-falling discs from the pair of bombs then scanned the ground with lasers and heat-detecting sensors to locate armoured vehicles. Those discs that identified a target exploded dozens of metres up. The blast propelled a tangerine-sized slug of copper down into the target, destroying it with the impact and the accompanying shrapnel…

The soldiers in the 70 vehicles farther back in the column surrendered immediately.*

There was a time, after the fall of the Berlin wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union, when I thought the “good old days” of defense industry advertising were done. Game over. And weapon system advertising was a terrific game, with its own language, its own sense of swagger.

Beyond the opportunity to show things that go bang (in print, in video, etc.), there was the feeling on my part, and on the part of everyone I worked with in the defense industry over a period of several decades, that we were creating goods and services for the defense of the nation…of giving our soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen the best matĂ©riel with which to win a fight – and win a war.

As demonstrated by this 2006 post, I have been lucky. Even though the Cold War has been over for years, I’ve been able to keep up my involvement in defense industry advertising. Reading about the CBU-105 cluster bomb recently sent me looking to see what’s new in defense industry marketing communication.

You should look too – Textron Defense Systems is cooking. It’s true there’s no substitute of a sexy product whatever the category. Its CBU-105 Sensor Fuzed Weapon and internal BLU-108 submunition are precisely the articles highlighted in The Economist article and they do work as described.

Textron has created a range of provocative marketing materials to convey not only the technical performance of its systems, but the emotion behind them. You can see video here, for example; and print advertising like those above here.

There is plenty of front-end attitude in headlines like:

Not just effective. Cost-effective. (Reversed out of photo of burning Iraqi tanks).

2 April 2003. The world’s first Smart Area Weapon proves itself in combat.

We’re the leader in force protection for one simple reason: We don’t believe in level playing fields.

The creative addresses its primary audience, but there’s more to it than sassy headlines. Responsible defense communications recognizes the benefits of effective weaponry in terms of protecting our combatants and minimizing casualties. In the Iraqi engagement, 30% of the tanks and their crews died. The other 70% surrendered – and lived.

In the case of Textron Defense Systems, advertising demonstrates product success. That means mission success. Can your advertising (and your product or service) make the same claim?

*From The Economist, January 30, 2010, p 88.

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