Shooting its first campaign for the Air Force since winning the account a year ago, GSD&M learned a few les sons about the military world.

The Austin, Texas, agency quickly figured out who was in charge. “Typically, when you’re on a shoot, the crew is the boss, but not in the Air Force,” says senior vice president and creative director Daniel Russ. “There’s a 20-foot boundary around the B-2 that you can’t cross. Each plane comes with its own guards, and they are not chatty.

“It was unusual, but I think we were treated well and with respect.”

The crew also got a few reality checks. “Before you knew it,” says director Jeffrey Plans ker of Anonymous Content in Los Angeles, “the plane you wanted to shoot was on a mission or property was no longer available because a contractor was running a test and it was suddenly classified.”

And then there was the red tape. “It was frustrating at times,” says Plansker. “You have to imagine how large the Air Force is and the amount of time it would take to, say, get word back from Washington for permission to shoot in a certain hangar.”

The campaign, which had to be amended somewhat following the Sept. 11 attacks, breaks today with two inaugural spots. For the initial three-week flight, the media budget is $5-10 million, according to a source.

The spots take a trip into inner space. A woman toiling under her car envisions herself working in stead on a B-2 bomber or a high-tech inflatable satellite. As two guys fuel up at a gas station, the nozzle be comes that of a tanker engaged in a dramatic midair refueling of four Stealth F-117s.

“The idea is that the Air Force is a world of mind, a world of staying ahead,” says Russ. “It’s like an invisible sphere all around us.” That world is expressed in the campaign’s theme, “Crossing into the blue.”

Entry to this realm takes a leap of the imagination, which GSD&M tries to facilitate for the target teen age audience of potential recruits by linking it with day-to-day activities—like the rolling back of a car’s sunroof paired with the raising of a cockpit hatch. In the Air Force, the tag says, “Everything is different and important. Especially you.”

As required, GSD&M cast Air Force personnel in the spots, shot on location at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico and Edwards Air Force Base in California. Although none of the actors has a speaking part, “we felt for a while that we were doomed,” says Plansker. “We didn’t know what they would be capable of on camera. As it turned out, they blew us away—they were better than anything we would have been able to get in Hollywood.”

For good measure, GSD&M flew the Air Force band from Washington, D.C., to Austin to record the soundtrack.

After the terrorist attacks, the Air Force and the agency jointly decided to drop the “No one comes close” tag, introduced last year by SiegelGale, New York, in fear it might be perceived ironically. “Cross ing into the blue” was then given a larger role.

“More and more, [‘Crossing into the blue’] feels like a good way to think of the campaign,” says Russ.

One spot that was in the final editing stages on Sept. 11 is now in limbo. In it, cinematic images of an American landscape are paired with a voiceover that says, “You’re looking at a nation under attack.” A description of how the Air Force fights cyber-terrorism follows.

“Probably right now it wouldn’t be appropriate to add cyber-terrorism to people’s worries,” Russ says.

The spot was part of the campaign’s effort to show the Air Force’s many facets and roles—”to tell kids what they don’t know already,” says Russ. Now, especially, he says, “they’re already getting the jets message, the combat message, on the news.”

“We wanted to ‘sell the corpor ation,’ ” says account director Lee Pilz.

Agency: GSD&M, Austin, Texas
Group CD/Writer: Daniel Russ
Senior Writer: Juan Perez
Senior Art Director: Adam Butler
Agency Producer: Chip McDonald
Director: Jeffrey Plansker, Anonymous Content
Executive Producers: Andy Traines, Dave Morrison