The U.S. Army is stepping up its game in an attempt to boost sagging recruitment numbers with an experimental "concept recruitment center" built around simulators, videogames and other new marketing techniques.
The Army was inspired by the success of Apple Stores, which feature high levels of interactivity in their displays, special areas for presentations and free public workshops as well as other unusual retail techniques.
"In the past we've focused on traditional media vehicles," said U.S. Army CMO Edward Walters in a Brandweek report (via GamePolitics). "The millennial generation is used to engaging in interactive assets and we need to adapt to them."
He said the new recruitment office is meant to be less intimidating, describing it as "like walking into a NASA center."
The newly-designed facility will be built around three large simulators of the Apache and Blackhawk helicopters and the HMMWV (Humvee), with 270-degree wraparound screens that will allow prospective recruits to sample multiple positions in each vehicle. America's Army will also be available for play in a separate area of the center.
"It's getting tougher and tougher to do personal recruiting," said Robert Passikoff, president of marketing consultancy firm Brand Keys who is a former member of the military. "This is a way of engaging possible recruits in a way that may be 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 experimental outreach that is really able to provide a broader range of connectivity."
"We are trying to overcome preconceived notions," added U.S. Army marketing executive Major Larry Dillard. "People are generally surprised at the activities that you can do in the Army. We are trying to generate some kind of engaging experience that will give you an 'aha' moment."
At least one person thinks the new concept is a bad idea that will stir up more controversy than interest in joining the army. "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," said Richard Laermer, author of 2011: Trendspotting for the Decade. "I'll bet you that in a very short amount of time they will get rid of [the new centers] because of a public outcry. People are going to get mad about it."
Despite the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. Defense Department said last week it had exceeded its recruitment goals for May with 5568 sign-ups, and also claimed to be "making a comeback in retentions."
The cost of developing and deploying the new center, which is due to be unveiled to the public in August, was not released. The Army reportedly spent $172 million in advertising last year, and $37 million in the first quarter of this year.