Imitates Apple To Draw New Recruits
June 13, 2008
The U.S. Army,
experiencing a stagnant recruiting situation, is going
The Army plans to unveil a pilot concept recruitment
center in late August that was inspired by the
interactivity of Apple Stores. The center, opening in a
city that's yet to be determined, will be built around
virtual simulations and other experiential marketing
techniques to engage visitors.
Seeing the success of Apple retail centers—as well as
attractions like the ESPN Zone—prompted Edward Walters,
CMO of the U.S. Army, to make a tactical change. "In the
past we've focused on traditional media vehicles. [But]
the millennial generation is used to engaging in
interactive assets and we need to adapt to them."
If the test proves successful, many centers will be
opened around the country.
The effort comes as the number of new recruits for the
active Army decreased minimally last year, per the Dept.
"It is getting tougher and tougher to do personal
recruiting," said Robert Passikoff, ex-military man and
president of Brand Keys, a brand customer loyalty
planning consultancy based in New York.
"This is a way of engaging possible recruits in a way
that may get someone interested and eventually
convinced. It makes a lot of sense given how the media
environment has changed. It isn't just a matter of
providing information, it is a matter of experiential
outreach that is really able to provide a broader range
The first new recruitment center is designed to be less
intimidating and more "like walking into a NASA center,"
said Walters. It will consist of three large simulators
with full-scale mock-ups of Army equipment and
wrap-around 270-degree video screens.
"The modeling command and control systems are like those
used in Iraq," said Maj. Larry Dillard, U.S. Army
The Apache simulator allows a pilot and co-pilot to
experience the aircraft and its weapons systems. The
Black Hawk helicopter simulator provides four door
gunner positions. And, the armored HMMWV vehicle
simulator has positions for a driver and several
gunners. The centers also will include an area where
visitors can compete in America's Army, a videogame
released in 2002.
"If you think of a classic recruitment center, [all of]
its forms and brochures are about as exciting as the
post office," said Marc Babej, partner at Reason Inc., a
marketing consultancy in New York. "Why talk about it
when you can demonstrate it."
Walters agreed. He said, while the U.S. armed forces
have high awareness, the centers "show people what Army
is about. We want to convey to young men and woman the
most meaningful benefits of joining the Army."
The effort isn't the first time the Army has gone
experiential. Since February 2007, the Army has worked
with Los Angeles-based ad shop Ignited on a 20,000
square-foot tour that lets potential recruits get a
20-minute simulation experience that mimics being a
soldier. Amy Lindstrom, a rep for Ignited, said that
more than 100,000 people have taken the tour. Since
recruiters aren't typically on site, though, she said
it's difficult to track how many of those people signed
"We are trying to overcome preconceived notions. People
are generally surprised at the activities that you can
do in the Army," said Dillard, referring to the new
recruiting centers. "We are trying to generate some kind
of engaging experience that will give you an 'aha
Despite the continuing unpopular war in Iraq, the Army
has been making a comeback in retentions so far this
year. Further, last week, the Defense Dept. announced it
exceeded its recruiting goals (5,568 accessions) for the
Richard Laermer, author of 2011: Trendspotting for the
Decade, said the new centers could stir up controversy.
"With everything going on with the war effort, you think
they would be a little more buttoned up. Right now there
is nothing cool about the Army."
Laermer doubts the test will succeed: "I'll bet you that
in a very short amount of time they will get rid of [the
recruitment centers] because of a public outcry. People
are going to get mad about it."
Last year, the U.S. Army spent $172 million in
advertising, and $37 million in the first quarter this
year, per Nielsen Monitor-Plus.
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