“Dear Admiral…”

Rear Admiral James Foggo is a pretty smart and accomplished guy.  You’ll note, dear readers, that he’s a submariner, which in general, recent events notwithstanding, are a group of Pretty Smart Guys. (and women, now that SECNAV has so decreed).  He’s smart enough to understand that places like the Blogosphere is a place to reach out to some self-selecting and interested audiences when you have a targeted message you wish to communicate, and perhaps disperse to other parts of the interweb.  He’s done so, over at the blog at the United States Naval Institute.  He wonders, among other things, if the current advertising slogan “The Navy: America’s Force For Good” is not drifting away from the Chief of Naval Operations’ own published vision for the Navy of Warfighting First! Operate Forward! Be Ready! Wander over, take a read, maybe even the mainly very cogent comments, and if you are of a mind and interest, come on back for my own reply below:

Dear Admiral Foggo,

First of all, thank you for joining with other Flags, such as ADML Stavridis, ADML Harvey and others in coming into the blog world to address issues and ideas with readers who care enough to know where to come and read and respond.  I read through the responses through 1900Z today, 15AUG, and honestly, most of what I thought I was initially going to say has already been said by much better, and smarter, writers than I am, such as Steeljaw Scribe, CDR Salamander and BJ Armstrong.

But sir, several things about your piece struck me on the first and subsequent readings that caused me to reflect on how we came to a slogan (not a motto) that has caused as many, if not more smirks than nods of assent.  First sir, I most respectfully invite your attention to the third paragraph of your piece:

“Accordingly, he may want to examine our current “brand.” In enterprise terms, Strategic Communicators employ the marketing strategy of “branding” to focus on the objectives achievable with the goods and services that the company can offer its clientele. For example, the American Marketing Association (AMA) definition of a “brand” is a “name, term, sign, symbol or design, or a combination of them intended to identify the goods and services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of other sellers.” “

Do you remember when you were a junior officer, sir?  Remember the oft-played game, especially among the JO’s or later, junior staff officers, called “Bullshit Buzzword Bingo?”  I’m sure you do.  Go back and reread the above paragraph sir.  “brand,” “enterprise,” “marketing strategy,” “…the company can offer it’s clientele,” and topped off with a quote from the American Marketing Association. Sir, wording like this tells me, a survivor of more than a couple of forays inside the Shark Tank Beltway that whether your Flag Writer or you wrote this, someone has been inside the bowels of the Pentagon too long.  It’s time to step away from there, and the concentric rings and cushions of gobbledygook and self-licking ice cream cones and head down to the piers, the flight lines and the tenders and start breathing salt air again.

Admiral, you are the former commanding officer of one of the most lethal weapons known in the modern world, a United States Navy nuclear-powered attack submarine.  No amount of time away from that, and the years of education, training and operations that led up to that, should ever dilute the core desire to serve at sea (or in your case, under the sea) and have it be thinned by years of graduate education, policy meetings, sensitivity training or staff tours.  I recognize and deeply appreciate the subtle intrusion of non-core issues, matters and the fact the farther away one gets from the harbor or the runway, the more distant the basic ethos of who and what the Navy is, to ourselves and to the American people.

Sir, I can actually appreciate what you are saying there, but look at the terminology.  I most respectfully submit that the American people do NOT want to be treated as consumers of the Navy “brand” as if it was some sort of new toothpaste or car.  I also appreciate the fact that the Navy indeed needs to gets it message out to the citizens of this nation, to our national elected representatives and even abroad to both national leaderships and even the common people of those nations.  But your core audience are the citizens of this nation.  The taxpayers, the veterans, the members of the Armed Forces, especially our sailors and the youth of this country who really want to do something more with their lives than go to school and then go right to an eight hour a day job for the bulk of their adult lives.

I agree that the current phrase “A Global Force for Good” is as soft and pliable as certain brands of bathroom tissue.  It also completely, totally and utterly in opposition to CNO’s succinct sailing orders listed ahead.  Does the Navy do humanitarian ops?  Well of course we do, whether the third-world local tyrants like it or not, we go places where most other nations either fear to go or are utterly incapable of going and deliver, time and time again, aid, food and comfort.  But sir, as you indicate, that’s NOT our Navy’s primary mission.  The Navy is there to, as one very pithy statement puts it, “put warheads on foreheads.”  There, I said it.  The people of this nation expect our Navy to be an Armed Force and to use their arms forcefully when lawfully ordered to by our national leadership in defense of the nation and it’s defined national goals and objectives, based upon the lawful Constitution of the United States, to “provide for the common defense.”

You ask, thoughtfully, what should we look to replace the ad agency feel good, let’s-kick-it-around-and-see-what-the-customer-likes “Mad Men” kind of pap that sadly the Navy has been foisting upon a skeptical public.  Sir, I was eight years old when this poster first began to be seen:

Eight years old, and yet, to this day, it’s what I and many, many citizens think of when you say “Navy” to them.  Consider that fact, sir.  Remember when your seniors decided that the Navy needed to have “core values?”  “Honor, courage, commitment.”  All very nice and aspirational and declarative.  What about our Navy history, sir? Our heritage? Our continuum of service to the American people, to protect our citizens and our shores and our national goals, sir?  From Old Ironsides to the nuclear Navy; from forced impressment of American citizens by foreign bully nations to delivering one of the most storied long-range raids in history.  This, sir is one of the true keys to “branding” our Navy to our nation, our leaders and the world.

The other visual was referred and linked in response to your question by my friend, Steel Jaw Scribe:

A post 9/11 response, and yes, burdened with that excrementally bad “Accelerate Your Life” subtext, but nonetheless it speaks to a core of tradition of a Navy that serves our nation. It’s succinct, it addresses the true “core value” of the Navy and it tells the reader what the Navy “does” in no uncertain terms.  There’s no “all things to all readers,” or “oh, it speaks in multiple subtexts” advertising agency CHINFO-speak.

You asked of us readers, sir, our thoughts about “branding” the Navy.  I say, sir, go to “All Stop” with such language, for a starter.  What do we think will succinctly communicate who the Navy is and what the nation’s Navy does?  One respondent, BJ Armstrong pointed out that the Navy is the only service with no Latin motto, and suggested “Non Sibi sed Patriae” …Not for Self, But for Country.  A great start, and one well worth considering as part of this process.

I for one will not be one to only gripe but will also throw out what I think may be a starting idea if we are to really define our Navy in the eyes of the public:

“For my ship and my shipmates,
 For my Navy and my nation.”

Welcome aboard sir, and thanks for asking.  We appreciate the fact that you’ve taken the time to ask.  I hope the answers may help us out of “feel good land” and out again onto the seas of service.

VR,

Comjam

P.S. One last thing, sir, if I may.  Get in your car some Saturday night or Sunday morning, get on the interstate and drive down to Little Creek or Norfolk.  No entourage, no Loop, just you.  Drive to the piers and go up the brow of the third ship you see.  Present yourself, tell them to stop going nuts and take the time, sir, to talk to them.  Talk to the junior sailor you just scared the living daylights out of.  Talk to the panic-stricken In-Port OOD.  Just talk to them.  Ask then what they really think and feel and what their families or loved ones think.  Get back to the piers, sir.  Please.  Don’t forget the smell of the sea.  Ever.

About these ads

25 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

25 responses to ““Dear Admiral…”

  1. Well put, COMJAM, well put!
    Lex is likely laughing heartily in approval.

  2. Well said, sir. Well said.

  3. COMJAM, great post. I encourage eveyone to continue this discussion. “Non Sibi Sed Patriae” has a long history and goes back to the Age of Sail as the unofficial motto of the USN. If you check NHHC’s website, it is what they list as the unofficial motto. It is also chiseled in marble above the doors of the Chapel at the United States Naval Academy.

  4. Heh. Love the p.s. He’d have to go in civies to avoid sending the qdeck watch into a panic.

  5. Well said! I’ve never liked the current slogan, it makes us sound like the Red Cross (not that I am denigrating humanitarian work, but you get my point).
    Awesome, awesome post.

  6. Comjam,

    Thanks for the welcome aboard to the blogosphere! Great feedback and great way to get the juices flowing in subjects like this. You make us all think and stimulate the debate. Just got back from a couple years with Sailors overseas and would be happy to take that trip down to Norfolk to stay “blued” and plugged in on the deckplate. (And no, my flagwriter didn’t write this. :)) Until then, I’ll pulse the system through the net.

    Keep chargin’

    JGF

    • Comjam

      Thanks very much, sir. Stop on by anytime, we’ll keep the coffee on. This lot has been known to splice the mainbrace on occasion as well.

    • And there ya go, Comjam. There’s no higher endorsement than what ya got the man himself. BZ.

      I’ll add my “well said,” too.

  7. cg23sailor

    Very well said Comjam!
    I have for a long time felt that the number one enemy of our navy is all the non-warfighting politispeak and feelgood seminar quality goings on.

    I absolutely hate political correctness. Being more of a tell it like it is kinda person myself (It does get me in trouble a lot but oh well).

    It is not just in words and sensitivity training meetings, but also reflected in Steel and Hulls in the water with abominations like LCS. And That, more than anything is why political correctness is our greatest enemy.

    I wish More upper brass like the good Admiral would keep in touch with our roots and traditions.

  8. Mary Ripley

    Comjam,

    I’ll offer my comments up as both a civilian and (Quelle Horreur) as a marketing person. For full disclosure, I am Mary Ripley, the moderator at the Naval Institute blog, so my comments are my own, not those of USNI.

    “I can actually appreciate what you are saying there, but look at the terminology. I most respectfully submit that the American people do NOT want to be treated as consumers of the Navy “brand” as if it was some sort of new toothpaste or car. I also appreciate the fact that the Navy indeed needs to gets it message out to the citizens of this nation, to our national elected representatives and even abroad to both national leaderships and even the common people of those nations. But your core audience are the citizens of this nation. The taxpayers, the veterans, the members of the Armed Forces, especially our sailors and the youth of this country who really want to do something more with their lives than go to school and then go right to an eight hour a day job for the bulk of their adult lives.”

    I am in violent agreement with you.

    But, to your reflection:

    “Go back and reread the above paragraph sir. “brand,” “enterprise,” “marketing strategy,” “…the company can offer it’s clientele,” and topped off with a quote from the American Marketing Association. Sir, wording like this tells me, a survivor of more than a couple of forays inside the Shark Tank Beltway that whether your Flag Writer or you wrote this, someone has been inside the bowels of the Pentagon too long. It’s time to step away from there, and the concentric rings and cushions of gobbledygook and self-licking ice cream cones and head down to the piers, the flight lines and the tenders and start breathing salt air again.”

    …I have some thoughts:

    Marketing will not go away. It’s not just the Pentagon, and while maybe we are quick to place judgement on marketing, advertising, and PR (an industry that, on face value, rings false- because it is a very calculated business), do not forget that in it’s best, it succeeds incredibly when it is right. Marketing, Brand strategy and enterprise may seem like phrases, but the thought behind them are not. It’s not the phrase we should take exception to, it’s the execution.

    The act of getting to a message, a well-crafted message is the result of a lot of hard work.

    The sticking point of failure, for me, is the constant changing of the message to suit the current whim.

    • Comjam

      Mary,
      Honored you replied. Thanks for your thoughts. Every profession has its own language. My objection is when we cross-pollenate specific languages to other uses and it serves to obfuscate our meanings, sometimes intentionally. It can also lead to mindsets that at odds with our original focus and mission. E.g., the Navy is NOT, IMHO a “business enterprise.”

  9. Busbob

    Note the response on the Institute blog about the Navy having “changed from a war fighting Navy to a humanitarian Navy.” The focus has been on accepting alternative lifestyles, mingling the sexes on board, and making the workplace free of any hint of discrimination.
    In doing so the Navy has lost the identity it has EARNED since the 1700′s, bring your best to the battle because we will always bring our best. It seems we are currently sorting out just what the best mix is….
    Bravo, Admiral, you realize we can do better. Must do better.
    Bravo, Comjam, well said.
    Busbob

    ps Admiral, Comjam’s suggestion about getting back to the piers is a fine idea. The best leader I ever had in the Navy went straight to the troops, listened, and then acted on what he learned. He was the leader and the advocate for his men. We understood and would do whatever he asked of us. Instantly.
    I sense you may be of the same school.

  10. NavyDavy

    Good one COMJAM and nice of the Admiral to respond.

    Why does the Navy have a slogen? Is it to appease the inside the beltway or Pentagon diverse PC crowd? Or is it to recruit some kid sitting in front of his computer playing “Call of Duty” “Gears of War” or some other shoot em up game? ( He’s not playing Barby Doll). How many of these kids are calling/texting their HS buddies and saying “Let’s join the Navy and be a Force for Good”?
    They want to join the Navy and be a Warrior!
    My vote. “Killing People and Breaking Things”
    http://blog.usni.org/2009/04/15/the-us-navy-on-easter-sunday/

  11. Good thinking and good writing!

  12. George P.

    VERY well put. I imagine Lex would have a field day with this topic. I’m a civilian and even “I” spit up my iced tea when I saw a photo of a nuclear-armed aircraft carrier on TV labeled “a global force for good.” WTF? But the Navy’s not alone in using nonsense language. At the newspaper I used to work for, “reporters” are now called “content providers.” BAH.

  13. ron snyder

    Damn! Well Done Comjam. Hope the Brass listen. I would like to be optimistic, but in my heart I am not.

    Respectfully,

    Ron Snyder

  14. Incredibly articulate. I hope in the end, the ones who make such decisions will remember that war (and the reasons for war) are never politically correct, and trying to “dress the Emperor” just ends up in everyone being nekkid with egg on their faces.

    My personal vote (though I’m not Navy, and not even American) is “The pursuit… and all who threaten it.”

    Sums it up perfectly.

  15. Pingback: Chicago Boyz » Blog Archive » Pushing Back Against Branding Bureaucratese

  16. Comjam, Good and thoughtful post. Less bureaucratese and more plain talk—it has worked for the Marine Corps. Simple, apprehend-able, and unambiguous.

  17. Spaddriver

    Comjam, excellent post and thank you Admiral for stopping by our humble blog. I also like Comjam’s P.S. to go smell the salt water. I was always with the Air Wing but one of the Ship COs would go to the mess decks and eat with the troops 2 or 3 times a week. That crew would have jumped over the side and towed that carrier with ropes for that man if he had ask. PC is killing the Navy and our country

  18. Mary,
    You wrote, “It’s not just the Pentagon, and while maybe we are quick to place judgement on marketing, advertising, and PR (an industry that, on face value, rings false- because it is a very calculated business), do not forget that in it’s best, it succeeds incredibly when it is right. Marketing, Brand strategy and enterprise may seem like phrases, but the thought behind them are not. It’s not the phrase we should take exception to, it’s the execution.”

    I am not a Navy person – not even military (son in Army Airborne, daughter in USAF), but I am a business person and I must respectfully, but strongly disagree.

    Those companies that have relied on branding and brand management are increasingly in trouble. Those that let their product speak for itself and focus on core value are doing better and better.

    Will Rogers was right and spoke directly to this issue when he said, “If advertisers spent the same amount of money on improving their products as they do on advertising then they wouldn’t have to advertise them.”

    • Mary Ripley

      “Those companies that have relied on branding and brand management are increasingly in trouble. Those that let their product speak for itself and focus on core value are doing better and better.”

      Bill, I agree with you in the sense that this can’t be relied upon. Reliance upon to be the solution is a set-up for failure. Likewise, the void is also not the solution.

      Which is also why I ardently agree with Scott Shipman as well, “Less bureaucratese and more plain talk—it has worked for the Marine Corps. Simple, apprehend-able, and unambiguous.”

      My point is not to run the Navy like a company with a but to do the work to get clear, concise messaging out there and for them to be considerate of what that message is. At is core, branding is repetition, which is why the Marine Corps does so well. If anything, the Navy hasn’t even articulated their brand, rather, they have been articulating a series og slogans that changes at the whim of senior leadership.

  19. @J. Scott Shipman

    Thanks

    As I wrote, I have a son in the Army and a daughter in the Air Force. Both decided to enlist primarily based on the first hand input from friends in the military. Neither took the service branch’s slogan into account.

  20. scottthebadger

    I still think Halsey’s Tulagi billboards still sum it up the best. KILL! KILL! KILL! gets the message across most clearly. Certainly better than ” A Global Force For Good “.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s