After Defense Secretary Ashton Carter made his recent pilgrimage to Silicon Valley to discuss his Defense Innovation Initiative (DII), his DIUx revealed its website. It’s pretty standard, built on government-issue boilerplate HTML. But DIUx? As the copy puts it, “two key efforts that align with DII are the Defense Innovation Unit-Experimental (DIUx) and the Long-Range Research and Development Program (LRRDP).” So, the DIUx and the LRRDP are an important part of the DII… Geez. Is the Pentagon really trying to take to California acronyms such like those? The TEDx pattern is a little too obvious, and that acronym alone explains most of what’s wrong with military marketing in the US. Here’s a short primer in how not to do it.
First, pick a cumbersome, generic-explicit acronym. If this seems silly, then you just don’t get it, Scott. Because starting in the technocratic 1990s, the Defense Department routinely began trading away marketable names like Tomahawk, Hellfire, and Sidewinder for the antiseptic sounds of JDAM, JSOW, and LRASM. The newest British missile is the brilliantly named Brimstone—if admittedly from the four-lettered MBDA. It’s wryly intuitive: Hellfire is logically followed by Brimstone. Tu es touché, Lockheed Martin, though really, your original formulation of Hellfire from the government’s Helicopter-Launched, Fire-and-Forget was excellent as well.
Second, add a ‘'J’ to that acronym. As everyone knows, ‘J' stands for Joint, and Joint is Good. My personal favorite in this category is the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System, whose name somehow reduces to JLENS. It’s a radar-carrying unmanned blimp, but there’s nothing joint about it—it’s just meant for the US Army. There’s nothing wrong with the single-service usage—the benefits of inter-service everything are overblown—but the ‘J’ on the front of the acronym is just plain misleading.
Along the way, throw out your Chicago Manual of Style, and instead, capitalize every common noun and adjective you can. Like Joint. Marine. Soldier. Sailor. Service. Nation. Show us how important those things are. Or just that you’re German.
Third (or is it fourth?) give your system an incongruous moniker. Call your armored car a Piranha. Call your transport plane a Grizzly. True, Hercules didn’t himself fly, but he lifted heavy things. Enough said.
Or instead—as BAE Systems unveiled the other day, call your new amphibious tractor the Beowulf. Why? Because Beowulf was a certified badass who, as Defense News put it, “would travel immense distances to prove his worth against mortal enemies”. Awesome, and awesomely Nordic. Because somehow, England’s epic national hero was Dano-Swedish. Take note, Royal Marines. Word is, you want about 230 articulated tractors to replace aging Bv206s.
Bear in mind, I may have done some marketing work for a few of the companies mentioned. But that’s entirely within my point. I just strongly prefer not to let my clients bore their customers. So tell us what you mean, weapons makers and buyers! Drop the antiseptic language, folks, and start marketing.