The Army has delisted its advertising campaign titled "The Calling" on YouTube, making it harder to find the videos on the platform. The 2021 effort to court potential applicants from LGBTQ+ and other diverse backgrounds sparked a backlash from conservative lawmakers and pundits.
"The Calling" was delisted from the service's YouTube channel last week, hiding it from search results and recommendations, according to Laura DeFrancisco, a spokesperson for the Army's marketing arm, who said usage rights for music were set to expire. One of the ads, called "Emma," featured a soldier who operated Patriot missile systems and was raised by a lesbian couple.
The series of ads focused on individual, personable, real service members from diverse backgrounds as a way to appeal to the shifting demographics of Gen Z. They were based on the idea that relatively low-ranking soldiers pitching service might be more trustworthy to potential applicants skeptical of institutions than corporate jingles or generic images of troops jumping from planes.
The service also delisted some ads from its "What's Your Warrior" campaign, a slick series of ads highlighting the Army's different job opportunities, particularly those in science and technology.
The military services have faced a historic recruiting slump in recent years. The Army came up 10,000 recruits short of its 65,000 goal last fiscal year.
Meanwhile, more than 20% of Gen Z identifies as LGBTQ+, according to a 2021 Gallup poll. The military has traditionally not been perceived as friendly to potential applicants with those backgrounds, with "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" still a recent memory after being repealed in 2011.
"The Calling" spot featuring a female soldier raised by two moms in California immediately sparked the ire of Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill and partisan media. The military, particularly the Army, has increasingly become a target in the political culture wars, with the GOP attacking the Biden administration over what it sees as liberal policy creep.
"The Calling" was made exclusively for YouTube. It became a flashpoint amid the growing political criticism and is still routinely referenced on conservative media -- and on Capitol Hill as recently as December.
"Why do we have an Army in a recruiting crisis. ... What data drove 'The Calling?'" Rep. Mike Waltz, R-Fla., asked defense officials at a hearing on recruiting shortfalls last month.
It wasn't the first time the campaign has been brought up in congressional hearings by Republicans. But the Army has been increasingly distancing itself from the ads.
"I don't know the genesis of it. Or why they ... 'The Calling' was before me," Agnes Schaefer, assistant secretary of the Army for manpower and reserve affairs, said in response to Waltz's questioning.
The Republican critiques have centered on allegations the military has become "woke" or so fixated on diversity and inclusion that it has abandoned its responsibility to be ready to fight. The criticisms seldom center on specifics, but generally zero in on the services opening up opportunities for women, LGBTQ+ troops, minorities and other historically marginalized groups.
Delisting a video on YouTube doesn't outright delete it; it hides the video from search results and recommendations from the platform's algorithm, though anyone with the original link can still view it.
The Army, like some companies in the public sector, licenses parts of advertisements such as music for a limited time. YouTube has a punishing copyright infringement system, and entire channels can be taken offline for only a few perceived infractions.