Coast Guard Focuses On Its Role in Defense

Now part of the Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Coast Guard is bowing a print and TV campaign that aims to position the branch as crucial to the nation’s defense.

The campaign abandons the vocational strategy launched by Cossette Post in 1996 with ads tagged, “Jobs that matter.” That work showed “Coasties” performing their on-ship duties and touted career training.

The new effort, from the same New York agency, is tagged, “The shield of freedom,” and seeks to infuse the Coast Guard, formerly part of the Department of Transportation, with a sense of import and adventure.

“We still [show] the range of missions that the Coast Guard has that they never wanted to be abandoned,” said Fred Morris, vp, client relationship manager. “However, they’ve also been known as law enforcement, and with 9/11, enforcement and defending the country became more important.”

The effort’s single TV spot shows a boat pushing off to save a stranded sailboater, a helicopter making a rescue in rough water, a boat working to contain an oil slick and several boats converging on a crew of drug runners.

“I am the port in the storm,” says one Coast Guard member. Others tell the camera, “I am the rescuer in the dark” and “I am the enforcer of the seas” as the action swirls around them. The final scene shows a crew patrolling the water, declaring, “I am the defender of the homeland.”

“We were trying to portray a more aggressive Coast Guard that is indeed a military service playing its part in the defense of the country,” Morris said.

The campaign is the result of research done after Sept. 11, 2001. More than 30 focus groups revealed that potential recruits still saw the Coast Guard as a lifesaving unit, with some unaware it is part of the military, said Morris. The client decided it had to provide deeper reasons to sign up.

“Just offering a job in and of itself could be considered not as important as what the Coast Guard does,” said Mauro Cooper, chief of recruit advertising for the Coast Guard Recruiting Command Base in Arlington, Va. “We do some emotional work out there, tough work.”

Real Coast Guard members appear in the vignettes, Morris said. During nighttime scenes, a helicopter was used to create wind and water conditions for close-ups, while director Eric Saarinen floated in the ocean with a camera mounted to a boogie board.

Four print ads target potential enlistees, officers and reserves. The ads will run in titles aimed at college-bound students, such as College Outlook and College Bound, as well as in newspapers that cover the areas served by the Coast Guard’s 150 recruiting offices.

The Coast Guard’s campaign relies primarily on donated airtime, Morris said. The spots were made available last month. The branch will spend $4 million this year on print ads and fees to state broadcasting agencies, Cooper said.