Spooks Turn To Advertising

Associated Press investigates recruitment advertising efforts made on behalf of the Central Intelligence Agency, an organization with a lot of new employees–40 percent began working at the agency after the Sept. 11 attacks.

The agency started in 2002 with black-and-white ads. Last year, the agency’s television ads during Washington Nationals baseball games were so quiet and unnoticeable that fans might have thought their cable went out for 30 seconds if they headed to the kitchen for a snack.
Officials in charge of hiring realized they needed a new plan. They hired an ad agency, TMP Worldwide, to help.
The “Bug Spot” was born. A snooping dragonfly zooms through the ad, showing how scientists at the CIA’s Directorate of Science and Technology develop their James Bond-esque devices – “technology so advanced, it’s classified,” the ad boasts.
The ad debuted on the Discovery Channel. The agency got 3,500 resumes shortly afterward from people who said they were applying after seeing the spot.
An ad for the National Clandestine Service, the agency’s secret operatives, followed soon after.
Now, the CIA is redoing its Web site. It is buying space on airport billboards and in movie trailers. It is taking out ads in publications from The Locksmith Ledger to Women’s Wear Daily to Arab Times, seeking people who can crack locks, create disguises and speak polished Arabic. It is reaching out to soon-to-be retired military officers.

We don’t often look at Recruitment Advertising in this space. But this seems like an important initiative. We do need the nation’s brightest to gather the best possible intel. Even though I find the need for such things unfortunate, there is in fact a need.
Which brings us to the advertising in question. Is it any good? By the standards used in industry award shows, no. But looked at through other eyes, this campaign seems to breathe some life into a stodgy brand (if I may dare to call CIA a brand).



About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.