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General Dynamics Launches $5 Million Advertising Blitz

March 20, 1990

WASHINGTON (AP) _ General Dynamics Corp., the nation’s second largest defense contractor, is spending $5 million on a radio and newspaper advertising campaign aimed at Washington insiders and Capitol Hill decision-makers.

The ads were created before democratic change swept Eastern Europe and make no mention of a perceived easing of world tensions. But the pitch is clear: The government should not turn its back on advances in defense capabilities.

The campaign also comes as Congress begins debate on next year’s defense budget at a time when pressure to reduce military spending is at its greatest in a decade.

″This is a fairly soft message, but the underlying text is: Keep the next generation of technology coming,″ said Gordon Adams, director of the Defense Budget Project, a non-profit analyst group based in Washington.

″I don’t think any member of Congress is ever sold by an ad,″ Adams said Monday. ″What the ad does is put the issue on the table. It says, ’This is important. Sit up and take notice.‴

General Dynamics’ first radio spot began airing last week. It recounts the historic voyage of the USS Nautilus, the nation’s first nuclear submarine, beneath the North Pole on Aug. 3, 1958.

″The USS Nautilus creeps forward, threading between the arctic ice above and the shallow sea bottom below,″ the narrator says. ″The only thing more remarkable than the submarine itself is the submariner.

″Dedication to both has kept us improving submarines since we built the Navy’s first 90 years ago. We’re General Dynamics, a strong company for a strong country.″

The Nautilus ad is one of six radio spots prepared by Cleveland-based Wyse Advertising. Budgeted at $5 million annually, the effort will last at least two years and possibly much longer, said Chuck DeMund, a General Dynamics executive heading the campaign.

Although the advertising budget is small for a Fortune 500 company - General Dynamics was 41st on last year’s list - it is the first product- orient ed campaign for the St. Louis-based defense contractor in 20 years.

″If you’re in the defense business, most of the decision-makers are inside the Beltway, or so I’m told,″ DeMund said. ″The Washington emphasis is heavy and pretty obvious.″

An outline of the campaign distributed to top General Dynamics officials indicates it is an extension of a mid-1980s attempt to improve the company’s image when its government contracting operations were under investigation.

Although the probe later was dropped, ″Our corporate reputation was in disrepair and we were in the bull’s eye of the media’s target,″ wrote Bob Morris, a General Dynamics communications vice president.

The earlier ad campaign promoted general topics such as education and voter registration as an image-booster. ″We decided it was time to start telling more specifically about what General Dynamics does for a living,″ DeMund said.

General Dynamics gets about 90 percent of its business from U.S. government defense contracts, $6.89 billion in 1989. The company has more than 100,000 employees and makes Tomahawk cruise missiles in San Diego; nuclear submarines in Groton, Conn.; F-16 fighter planes in Fort Worth, Texas; and M-1 tanks in Troy, Mich., and Lima, Ohio.

Print ads are appearing in The Wall Street Journal, U.S. News and World Report, Fortune, National Geographic, Smithsonian, the National Review and Washington Monthly.

Robert Costello, chief military procurement official in the Reagan administration, predicted that as military budgets fall, other defense contractors will produce similar ads.

″Basically, their issue is keeping as much business for their company as possible - at the expense of competitors,″ said Costello, now an analyst at the Hudson Institute, an Indianapolis think tank. ″Yes, they can have an impact.″

While its campaign germinated before the changes in Eastern Europe, General Dynamics is aware of the implications of democratic reform on military contractors.

The cover of the company’s 1989 annual report is a photograph of Cortland Bryant, a ship’s rigger at General Dynamics’ Electric Boat Division in Groton, Conn., where submarines are built.

″I really think this country’s tough stand on defense helped to make all those good things happen over in Europe,″ Bryant is quoted as saying on the cover. ″Nobody wants a war - I sure don’t - and as long as we’ve got these boats out there, I don’t think we’ll have one.″

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