In addition to having the best uniforms (yes, I said it), the Marine Corps absolutely kills it when coming up with recruiting slogans.
There is simply no denying the power behind the Corps recruiting messages, from the simple “let’s go!” to “first to fight.” We looked back on some of the most iconic slogans that have driven men and women to enlist for the last 240 years. Here they are:
1. “The Marines are looking for a few good men.”
Who doesn’t want to be among a select few “good men?” This phrase, or some variation of it, has appeared on quite a few recruiting posters throughout Marine history. But this one wasn’t created in an advertising boardroom. The roots of “a few good men” go back to 1799 with Marine Capt. William Jones plea in the Providence Gazette, according to About.com:
“The Continental ship Providence, now lying at Boston, is bound on a short cruise, immediately; a few good men are wanted to make up her complement.”
You’ll find this phrase on recruiting posters throughout Corps history, or as the title of the classic film starring Jack Nicholson. But perhaps its biggest impact came from this 1985 TV commercial:
2. “The Few. The Proud. The Marines.”
Eventually, the Marine Corps decided to shorten up its famous phrase and add “the proud” to the mix. It seems to have been quite effective, since “the few, the proud” is still used heavily in modern recruiting efforts. This recruiting slogan was so popular that the internet actually voted to place it on the “walk of fame” for advertising slogans on Madison Ave. in New York City in 2007.
“This slogan reflects the unique character of the Marine Corps and underscores the high caliber of those who join and serve their country as Marines,” Maj. Gen. Richard T. Tryon, commanding general of Marine Corps Recruiting Command, said at the time.
Long before the Corps found its footing with one of the best-known military slogans around, it went with simplicity. And there’s probably nowhere better to go for gung-ho phrases than what your enemy calls you. According to Marine Corps lore (with a heavy focus on “lore”), the Germans nicknamed the Marines “teufelhunden,” or “devil dogs,” after encountering them during the Battle of Belleau Wood, France, during World War I.
“The term very likely was first used by Marines themselves and appeared in print before the Battle for Belleau Wood,” Marine Corps History Divison’s Bob Aquilina told Stars Stripes. “It gained notoriety in the decades following World War I and has since become a part of Marine Corps tradition.”
While the nickname wasn’t actually legit, there’s no arguing that it made a solid recruiting poster and had significant staying power, since Marines still refer to themselves today as “devil dogs.”
4. “First to fight.”
Both a recruiting slogan and an enduring mantra of Marines, “first to fight” comes from the Marine Corps hymn of the late 1800s. In 1929, the Corps officially adopted the hymn and immortalized the words of “first to fight for right and freedom” in the memories of future generations of Marines.
Potential recruits began seeing “first to fight in France” during World War I, and they still do. Marine Corps Recruiting Command still uses the phrase in promotional materials today: “Marines are first to fight because of their culture and because they maintain a forward-deployed presence near various global hotspots.”
5. “Tell that to the Marines!”
The Marine Corps has a flair for taking an insult and turning it into something of a badge of honor. Sailors used to call them “gyrenes” as an insult, and then they adopted it. Then they started calling them “jarheads,” and that insult was flipped into a term of endearment.
So goes the phrase “tell that to the Marines.” It was originally an insulting way for sailors to chide British Royal Marines for believing any crazy story that they heard, according to The Marine Corps Historical Center. But with James Montgomery Flagg’s 1917 recruiting poster of an enraged man throwing a newspaper to the ground, the insult was recast as a challenge: if there is evil happening in the world, tell it to the Marines, because they will take care of it. Take that, squids.
6. “We don’t promise you a rose garden.”
One of the best recruiting slogans paired with a photo of a crazed drill instructor made “rose garden” one of the most legendary recruiting posters ever made for the Marine Corps. Sometime during the sixties/early 1970s, the Corps really distinguished itself from the other services with its messaging, and it has endured ever since.
Unlike other services that told potential recruits about awesome job opportunities, GI Bill money, or adventure, the Corps promised only pain, extreme challenges, and sacrifice. The messaging attracted a certain kind of recruit: One who was only interested in earning the title of Marine.
7. “If everybody could get in the Marines, it wouldn’t be the Marines.”
This classic line also played heavily alongside the “rose garden” campaign that ran from 1971 to 1984. Again, the Corps was sending the message that it was an exclusive club that only a select few could make it into. Of course, as a smaller service, the Corps has to be more exclusive, but this slogan also has the added bonus of throwing shade at the Army.
Not everyone can get into the Army, but this slogan hinted that it’s much easier to get into the Army than the Marines.
8. “The Marine Corps builds men.”
Last but certainly not least is the recruiting slogan that spanned three decades. A series of recruiting posters bearing the phrase “The Marine Corps builds men” with images of Marines and Marine life first popped up around the time of the Korean War in the 1950s. The campaign continued all the way into the early 1980s, according to The Marine Corps Heritage Foundation.