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Navy selects new ad agency, signaling direction change

May 27, 2015 (Photo Credit: Navy)

The Navy announced Wednesday that it will award its lucrative advertising contract to a new ad firm, signaling a change in direction after 15 years with the same ad agency.

New York-based firm Young & Rubicam Inc. won the Navy Recruiting Command contract, initially valued at $84.4 million for a one-year fixed-price. The contract also comes with four, one-year, optional extensions that could bring the total value of the award to $457.4 million by the contract's 2020 expiration date, if all options are exercised.

"We've been very appreciative of the work Campbell Ewald has provided us over the years," said a Navy official familiar with the contract award, but not authorized to speak about it. "While no transition period is easy, we don't expect to miss a beat in reaching potential recruits around the country."

Young & Rubicam takes the recruiting ad business from Lowe Campbell Ewald, a Detroit-based ad agency that has held the recruiting business since 2000.

The details were hammered out by Fleet Logistics Center Norfolk, whose contracting department is in Philadelphia. They evaluated two bids during the open competition.

The contract has been in question since May 2014, when the current contract expired. A month-to-month extension was given to Campbell Ewald while the bids for the new contract were being evaluated.

The move would also bring the agency responsible for Navy advertisements much closer to Navy Recruiting Command's front door. The command is based in Naval Support Activity Mid-South, in Millington, Tenn., just 20 miles north of Memphis, where Young & Rubicam subsidiary Burson-Marsteller is located.

Campbell Ewald's first campaign, "Navy: Accelerate Your Life," was the Navy's recruiting slogan from 2001 until 2009.

It was replaced by the unpopular "America's Navy — A global force for good," which had a run in all Navy advertising campaigns until last fall when it was removed from Navy recruiting commercials over a period of several months. It was gone when, during the Army-Navy football game in December, the service debuted a new recruiting commercial, "The Shield," a 30-second spot that ended simply with "America's Navy."

Another commercial, "Pin Map," which debuted Jan. 23 and featured huge red spheres in the air, over land and over oceans — later revealed as push pins in a world map showing the service's global presence — also ended with "America's Navy."

So the Navy doesn't have a single slogan, but service officials said last December that Campbell Ewald had done focus groups with the fleet, as well as with retires and veterans, trying to tease out new themes.

The service could go forward, officials said then, with multiple recruiting tag lines customized to individual commercial campaigns targeting specific audiences, rather than the older single-brand approach. It is unclear whether the Navy will continue with this tactic as recruiting shifts to the new ad firm.

The loss of the Navy contract would be devastating to Campbell Ewald, which has also seen clients like Chevrolet and Cadillac move on in recent years.

Navy sources say they expect Campbell Ewald to appeal the Navy's decision, as is their right under current contracting rules. Such an appeal, sources say, would slow any transition.

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