Another Subsidy

horses Ad Age has a column in which a figure named Benjamin Duchek, “the principal of Socialgence and a former Army artillery officer,” argues that the military radically under-charges its marketing partners for use of its brands and images. “Why,” wonders Duchek,

do the government and its marketers give troops away at a ridiculously low price to any sporting organization or beer company that wants to parade them as a prop for an event? In 2012, the National Football League donated $800,000 to three military-related non-profits as part of a Veterans Day Salute to Service. That amount is nothing but a rounding error on the billions that the league brings in throughout the year. Yet it gives the league carte blanche to integrate armed forces branding into its website, TV broadcasts and apparel.

Quite so. The military could almost certainly insist on a much better deal than that, and its restraint in not doing so is, as Duchek argues, a subsidy from the public sector to big business marketing endeavors.

Of course, what Duchek misses is that it’s equally true that the military probably gets back at least as much as it concedes. Soldiers are certainly exploited laborers, but radically under-charging for military marketing services is not without benefit to the Pentagon, which is, after all, the entity making the call. In return for the near-free use of the “our heroes” and “support our troops” brands/tropes, the military receives free exposure for these crucial ideologies among a huge, highly suggestible, and important audience. All of which makes the next Pentagon budget and the next war that much safer.

Of course, one of the major target audiences for all the soldier-worship is the next batch of grunts. Judging by the inability of ex-soldiers like Duchek to perceive the systemic nature of their situation and labors, the in-kind marketing symbiosis seems to be working rather well, despite the extreme puniness of the purported benefits to the little people.