A welcome screen pops up after the site visitor “enlists” in the Earth Space Defense.
The U.S. Army joined forces with 20th Century Fox for a marketing campaign that advertises both Army recruitment and Independence Day: Resurgence, the sequel to the 1996 blockbuster starring Will Smith. The two entities jointly published short videos in May discussing military enlistment to defend Earth from aliens; these videos lead to a site hosted by an Army domain which speaks more to “the war of 1996” and defending “Earth’s independence.”
A spokesperson for the Army Marketing and Research Group told BuzzFeed News they were approached by Fox about six months ago with the idea of “leveraging” some of the film’s promotion to market the Army. The studio’s plans dovetailed nicely with what the spokesperson called “the patriotic season” between May and July. The campaign seeks to capitalize on the patriotism aroused in viewers by fictional battles with antagonistic aliens who are seeking to destroy the inhabitants of Earth. Fans of the Jeff Goldblum–starring sci-fi movie are likely to fall into groups that are targets for Army recruitment: people who are interested in science, engineering, technology, and mathematics.
The Army did not participate in the production of Resurgence. However, the subsequent collaboration on a marketing campaign is still something of a departure for the military, according to historian and Stars and Stripes on Screen author Lawrence H. Suid, who told BuzzFeed News that the military declined to collaborate on the production of the original 1996 film. The reason, he said, was because “the service had been saying for almost 30 years that there were no flying saucers.”
In one of the videos published on an Army YouTube channel (which is also available on the 20th Century Fox YouTube channel), a man wearing a U.S. Army cap discusses his daughter’s enlistment: He explains that he is a veteran who “fought in the war of ’96” and knows “what those ‘things’ are capable of.” The ad specifically notes that it was paid for by the U.S. Army. Another spot — which is more explicitly Resurgence-centric — links to the Army site but does not bear the “paid for by the U.S. Army” note; it was produced by the studio. In that commercial, Resurgence actor William Fichtner wears a costume from the movie and speaks to the camera: “When the world was brought to its knees, the Army was there to fight back. … They have been the driving force in uniting nations around the world to form the most powerful weapon against another attack: the Earth Space Defense.” That ad plugs both IndependenceDay.com and GoArmy.com/JoinESD.
The Army’s Join ESD subsite has a series of alien- and space-themed computer games that aim to make players consider real-life careers in the Army: unmanned aircraft systems operator, avionic mechanic, cryptologic network warfare specialist, and microbiologist. After each game, the website briefly explains what individuals with that job do “in the real U.S. Army”; it provides a “learn more” link that redirects players to a real job description. Additionally, if the player scores well enough on the game, they can “unlock” an “exclusive video” from the movie.
Hollywood and the military have had various alliances and transactions over the years, particularly for advisers and equipment. In 2014, Department of Defense entertainment liaison Phil Strub was quoted in Business Insider saying the relationship is also good for the military because “the image and message of the American armed forces gets projected before a global audience.” Strub had told Fortune that raising the military’s profile was a priority over gaining new enlistees. Thus, this particular effort for Independence Day: Resurgence is perhaps unusual in that its intent is, in part, to recruit.
Intentional or not, movies have had an effect on military recruitment before. Al Jazeera noted that Air Force recruitment surged upon release of the 1986 movie Top Gun (although the pilot Tom Cruise played was actually in the Navy).
20th Century Fox declined to comment on the record.
William Fichtner addresses the camera as a general.
20th Century Fox