The Honor Overkill Problem
How the Military Can Sharpen its Image


When a major league sports stadium fills, you can bet yours that someone there (with a microphone in front of them) is going to say something like “we are here to honor the men and women of the United States armed services.”  There may be a jet fly over — Pratt & Whitney F100 Afterburning Turbofan screaming overhead and, in response, breaths will be taken away awesomely.  The praise will be visceral — honor with a large side of whoopee.  Rest assured, service to your country of the military kind will get you gianormous reverent recognition in big places.  “What the hell was it that the president said.  Give them all a beautiful parade instead.”  But like Tom Waits, the armed forces shouldn’t oversell itself.  That would create a big galoof brand image. 

Some demographics say that you can never honor the military enough.  Well, yes sir, you can.  And that’s why Nathan Callahan is here to help.  Things need to change.  Uniforms don’t need that much honor face time.  I’m not calling for a lessening of actual honor for the military, or for that matter honor for members of any group with guns who ostensibly protect me and my wasteful lifestyle.  And before I make my pitch, please understand, I have signed the pledge.  I know that protecting our homeland in all its excess and formulations, including where ever its border of freedom extends, is part of the military suite I receive as a citizen here.  Nevertheless, the military has reached PR honor overload.  Simply put, they’re receiving too many slices of the honor pie and in the process the public is getting a tummy ache. 

What’s the solution?  Spreading the honor around.  For example:  When was the last time we had a Superbowl that honored high school math teachers and neurosurgeons?  You’re right:  Never.  I think we can make the case that these brain tweeking professions deserve, at least, an honor guard and a special message from Toby Keith.  But how would this happen, you say?  Where would network programmers find the time for that kind of honor ad space at the Superbowl.  Simple answer.  Two words.  The military.  If the armed forces would peal off some of that honor and spread it around, their image would go up… and so would rest of ours. There must be an NFL playoff game where honor could be bestowed on, say, streetsweepers, public defenders, Caltrans, Post Office and DMV workers.  And what about honoring musicians?  Sorry lot that they are, musicians bring a lot of embellishment into this world and some of them can inspire without words.  Now there’s a job worth honoring.

All I’m saying is, the armed services brand is suffering from honor overkill in the big stadium market.  As a branding expert, I know that this overkill will eventually create a balloon, over-inflate, and then pop. 

I also understand that part of this honor overkill is sometimes based on soldiers paying the ultimate price — you know, death for country.  The logic goes it’s really not overkill.  It’s legacy.  But the general population already knows the military’s legacy first hand because they’re the ones losing family members.  As sad as it is to say, a jet fly over isn’t going the replace a dead son, no matter how he died.  You might well ask when are we going to have a Blue Angel Super Bowl moment of honor for journalists, fisherman, loggers, couriers, airplane pilots, firemen, and other occupations who have members killed in the line of duty.

There is strong case to be made that the military should distribute its honor time to honor every American in every occupation, subcategory and gender — even the downtrodden. Personally, I’d like to see honor bestowed on America’s homeless.  And I don’t mean any disrespect by that.  ‘Make you a bet that we’d help the homeless more if we honored them more.

So to kick this program off, I say let’s create an honor everyone half-time show at this year’s Rose Bowl, right here in Southern California.  Word processors, security guards, micro-biologists, valets, meter readers, students, pre-schoolers, playboy bunnies, In n’ Out cooks, philosophy professors — everybody gets honored plus — flyover included.  Honoring everyone, including me, might even inspire us to have more pride in what we do.  And we could thank the armed services for the honor.  You might even say that honoring everyone would help the military be all it can be.

— Nathan Callahan

First Broadcast November 11, 2011

© / Nathan Callahan / all rights reserved


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