You couldn’t turn on your television in the mid-2000s without seeing one of the adrenaline-pumping recruitment ads created by the United States Navy. Keith David’s majestic yet empowering voice tells you that being a civilian is overrated and that life in the Navy is freakin’ badass — a message delivered atop a crushing guitar riff from Godsmack’s Awake.
Keith David signed on because, despite having never served, he’s an avid supporter of the military and veteran community. In fact, many of his most well-known roles are of him portraying troops across many different branches.
Godsmack, on the other hand, got on board because someone asked politely.
At the turn of the century, the Navy was having trouble connecting with younger generations. Previous recruiting campaigns were falling flat, so the Navy worked with Campbell-Ewald, the advertising firm that came up with Ford’s “Like a Rock,” to develop something inspiring to young adults who sought high-tech adventure.
They came up with, “Accelerate Your Life.”
The Navy recruitment office signed Keith David on to what would become a sixteen-year spokesman deal and things were almost set. The only remaining piece to the puzzle was music.
As the story goes, a young sailor at the recruitment office simply got in contact with Sully Erna of Godsmack. The conversation was as simple as the sailor asking, “do you mind if we use Awake?” The band was cool with it and that was that. The band was very supportive of the troops and the fact that one of their fans was a sailor resonated with them.
From the Navy’s perspective, it was an easy win. The band’s main demographic, males between 18 and 30, overlapped perfectly with the demographic targeted by the Navy. The band received plenty of praise from the military community in return. Godsmack would go on to perform on countless military installations (having an obvious fanbase within the Navy). They even headlined the Rockin’ The Corps concert held at Camp Pendleton and perform at countless USO shows.
But those outside the military community weren’t so happy. Godsmack front-man Sully Erna received plenty of flack for signing two separate contracts, each allowing one of their songs to be used in recruitment ads. Awake was authorized between 2001 to 2004 and the contract was again renewed to allow for use of their latest song, Sick of Life, between 2004 and 2007.
The band has officially remained politically neutral, but that didn’t stop them from being outspoken supporters of the troops. Erna was confronted about this in an interview with Arthur magazine. The interviewer, Jay Babcock, was very confrontational in suggesting the band played a role in the Global War on Terror by helping recruit young adults into a war.
Erna response was unapologetic:
It’s energetic music. It’s very athletic. People feel that they get an
adrenaline rush out of it or whatever, so, it goes with whatever’s an
extreme situation. But I doubt very seriously that a kid is going to
join the Marines or the U.S. Navy because he heard Godsmack as
the underlying bed music in the commercial. They’re gonna go and join
the Navy because they want to jump out of helicopters and f*ckin’ shoot
people! Or protect the country and look at the cool infra-red goggles.
Either way, the Navy’s recruitment ads were a hit.