Published on Tuesday, August 26, 2003 by United Press International
Selling Bombs Along with Soap?
by Gene J. Koprowski
CHICAGO -- Defense contractors usually stay out of the mass market because they have only one customer to persuade -- the Pentagon.
Lately, however, some companies have been using classic, consumer-behavior-altering advertising campaigns -- both in the broadcast and print media and on the Internet -- to persuade opinion influencers, who are the key constituents of decision-makers affecting major military procurements.
"This a new trend," Stuart Fischoff, a professor of psychology at the Fielding Graduate Institute in Santa Barbara, Calif., and founding president of the American Psychological Association's media psychology division, told United Press International. "This is like what the pharmaceutical companies have done -- going directly to consumers, rather than doctors. That worked very well for the drug companies, some of whom increased their sales by 40 percent for advertised prescription drugs."
Personnel in the policymaking world and in the contracting community, upon hearing or seeing ads from defense contractors, talk about them -- and the novelty of the firm being on the airwaves. This creates chatter, or buzz, in the offices at the Department of Defense, which others pick up on. "This is called an elaboration of the ad, which is what the marketer wants," Fischoff said.
Senior Pentagon personnel, involved in final decisions on contracts, may have heard the ads, too, and been directly influenced by them. If not, the office chatter raises the profile of the company being marketed.
"By widening the target of the ad, the government contractor gets out its message to people who may be important in the process down the road," Paul Levinson, chairman of the department of communication and media studies at Fordham University in New York City, told UPI.
There is an array of ads touting Pentagon contractors in the media today. Some examples:
--Lockheed Martin, the world's largest defense contractor, took to the airwaves recently with a radio campaign in the Washington D.C. metro market to promote its small-diameter bomb.
--Pratt & Whitney, the aircraft engine manufacturer associates itself in magazine ads with the USO and its mission of helping America's armed forces.
--SAS, a consulting firm, is advertising its public sector services via the online edition of The Washington Post, providing hot links to case studies detailing the savings its software provided for the U.S. Marine Corps.
In the past, savvy advertisers would have dismissed such spending as frivolous. The majority of the audience reached through the ads, they would have argued, would not include decision-makers for military goods and services. Therefore the ads would be, in industry parlance, a lot of wasted space.
Now, sophisticated marketers are reaching beyond the conventional wisdom.
"One message advertised can be worth 1,000 research reports, since people have a tendency to believe what they see, especially if they see it often enough and the message content is presented in an authoritative fashion," Robert Butterworth, a media psychologist in private practice in Los Angeles, told UPI. "You create the reality by the perception of the advertisement."
Rather than rely on its contacts throughout the Pentagon bureaucracy to land the hotly contested, small-diameter bomb contract, Lockheed Martin of Bethesda, Md., has taken the unconventional step of purchasing local radio ads, said Donald McClain, a spokesman for the defense contractor. The reason is simple: "We're in the middle of a competition for the contract," McClain told UPI.
The 15-second and 60-second ads, produced by the Keiler & Co. advertising agency in Farmington, Conn., tout Lockheed Martin's small-diameter bomb solution for the Air Force, said McClain, and its all-weather ability to strike moving targets with twice the accuracy of traditional global positioning system devices.
The bomb is 6 inches in diameter, 6 feet long, and weighs 250 pounds, containing 50 pounds of explosives and a steel case for penetration. The bomb uses differential GPS and is accurate within a 3-meter circular area. The bomb is half the weight of the Mark 82, the smallest bomb the Air Force uses today.
Lockheed Martin's key competitor is Boeing Co., said John Pike, a military analyst at GlobalSecurity.org, a think tank in Washington.
"Lockheed is advertising the fact that they build smart bombs as a way of off-setting all the good, earned media coverage that Boeing got with JDAM -- or Joint Direct Attack Munitions -- stories during the last several wars," Pike told UPI.
Both Boeing and Lockheed Martin have worked on the design of laser-guided "smart bombs" for the Pentagon during the last few years and the Bush administration has requested more than $54 million in the fiscal year 2004 budget for the further development of the bomb, according to research by GlobalSecurity.org.
The radio advertising by Lockheed communicates "very specific messages to anyone who is a stakeholder of any sort with the company," Pike explained. "A big contract is soon to be awarded and the company is trying to influence the decision process."
The subtle influencing of decision-making works through a psychological technique known as "the availability heuristic," said Fischoff. A heuristic is a carefully constructed mnemonic designed to assist the memory.
"They're making their name available in the mind of people, so that when the time to solve a problem arises -- the time to buy arrives -- their name jumps into everyone's mind," he said. "This gives them a higher probability of being considered than if there was no advertising at all."
Though defense contractors advertised heavily in trade publications in the past, this kind of marketing might not be as effective as it once was.
Fischoff said the mass media ads were more effective because they acted as a "time-release capsule" that worked on the unconscious minds of the prospective buyers and their colleagues and subordinates -- and even outsiders, such as the media and academics, at a time in the future.
Psychological research attests to the value of such messages, and their impact on such opinion leaders.
"Ultimately, a great deal of research suggests that people are more influenced by interpersonal, rather than mediated, communication," May Beth Oliver, an associate professor of communications at the Penn State University in University Park, told UPI. "As a consequence, if some individual who is in contact with a decision-maker is persuaded by a media campaign, the interpersonal communication between the two would likely be more influential than if the decision-maker simply saw the information in a trade publication."
Using the prescription drug companies' experience marketing prescription drugs on TV as a metaphor, Butterworth added: "If enough people talk about something working, such as the medication advertised, people will demand that medication of their physician, regardless of the reality of their specific needs."
Maj. Greg Gutterman, the Pentagon's spokesman for the small-diameter bomb contract office, did not return UPI's phone calls seeking comment on the Lockheed Martin advertising campaign.
There is no doubt, however, Lockheed Martin is eager that the bomb messages hit their targets soon.
"We're right in the middle of that contract competition," said McClain. "They haven't given us an exact date when the award will be announced, but it is coming up soon."
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