Case Study: Cross Into the Blue

To attract new recruits, the U.S. Air Force made a quantum leap into state-of-the-art interactive web marketing. This is the doorway to another world. A world where everything is different and important. Especially you. Cross into the blue. And see the difference between the ordinary & the extraordinary, the everyday & the exceptional, standing still & moving forward, today & tomorrow, getting a job & having a career. With over 150 careers in the Air Force, there’s bound to be one for you. —Rich media message delivered by U.S. Air Force home page

Interactive marketing has become the doorway to another world for the U.S. Air Force (USAF). Consider its recent integrated advertising campaign and how the Internet played a pivotal role in fostering better communication with the general public and in driving potential recruits to a revamped website (

For openers, USAF officials wisely recognized that the Internet is not just about demonstrating the Air Force’s online abilities, but about showing what it’s like to have an actual relationship with the USAF. Today’s potential recruits, for example, have more complex needs. A large number of visitors to the USAF website last year were more interested in education, scholarships, and career opportunities than they were in jets. So before launching a national branding campaign that included TV, print and radio, the USAF made sure its website conveyed to visitors—make that “potential recruits”—the types of life missions that can be expected when you “cross into the blue.” After all, there’s no sense spending advertising dollars to drive traffic if the website is still a work in progress.

“We had to revitalize the website to make it appropriate for the campaign,” explains USAF TSgt. Tony Leverett. “The overall look and feel of our website, and the message, had to change. Now, when potential recruits go to our site and then leave, they’re at least informed about the Air Force and its opportunities.”

The revamped website and the $27 million “Cross into the Blue” national advertising campaign both launched in mid-November. And although the USAF didn’t want to single out any particular group, its primary target was young men and women. “We worked hard with our ad agencies [GSD&M and Tribal DDB Worldwide, both Omnicom shops] to develop an integrated campaign with consistency in message,” says TSgt. Leverett. “Anytime you’re trying to present an image or a message to the public from a military standpoint, you want to make sure there’s no confusion as far as who we are, what we do, and where we come from.”

Each component of the offline campaign (TV, print and radio) referred potential recruits to the USAF website. “The whole point of the campaign was to drive traffic,” says TSgt. Leverett. “It’s a tool for the recruiter and the applicant to learn more about each other. Once the potential recruit is on our website, we try to drive him or her to an actual recruiter’s office for a one-on-one encounter.”

The USAF also placed actual banners (not online banners, duh) at a Washington Redskins football game and at this year’s Rose Bowl, referring potential recruits to its website. “Our strategy is always to find the best places to promote our services,” explains TSgt. Leverett.

For the campaign’s online component, Flash banners and streaming banners appeared on such properties as,, and, all directing traffic back to the USAF website. “Practically everything we put out there these days has our web address,” says TSgt. Leverett.

And how did the USAF know where to place its online banner ads? “We often conduct online questionnaires,” explains TSgt. Leverett. “We ask them point-blank how they heard about us, and a lot of times they mention being online. We then follow up with questions about where online they heard about us so we can follow these trends and find which sites are more dominant than the others.”

It also helped that GSD&M and Tribal DDB worked closely together integrating the advertising campaign, “especially in terms of what we were trying to project to the public,” says TSgt. Leverett. “It was a working partnership between the two ad agencies and the Air Force.”

Tribal DDB account supervisor Jeff Erickson agrees. “We’ve been able to put together an environment where we can translate online what GSD&M is doing on the traditional side. It brings a consistent message, tone, and theme within the campaign. Potential recruits may see an advertisement and URL on TV, but they come to the website to find out how to get in touch with a recruiter.”

Although the spike in traffic to the USAF website wasn’t dramatic, there were fluctuations, and a lot had to do with other things going on in the country after September 11, says TSgt. Leverett. An HTML email campaign also went out to individuals who had previously visited and registered “inside the blue” of the USAF website.

Site traffic during the first month of the campaign was up roughly 35 percent from the average month last year, according to Tribal DDB Dallas. Leads processed through the USAF website were 25 percent higher than the average month last year (except for the two months after the September 11 tragedy, which showed a noticeable jump in traffic).

TSgt. Leverett says the Internet definitely helped bridge the gap between what potential applicants know and don’t know about the USAF. “A lot of people don’t understand the vast opportunities we offer,” adds TSgt. Leverett. “It’s tough trying to reach people who are on the outside. With [the information they get from] the Internet, at least when they talk to a living recruiter, they’re both on the same page.” A web page, no doubt.

As for the integrated campaign. TSgt. Leverett says the USAF’s position is that all media work hand in hand. “We’re in the technology age, but there obviously are people who watch TV and read magazines and listen to the radio. Maybe for right now one’s more dominant than the other, but each one helps the other.”

And what lesson did the USAF learn about integrated marketing campaigns? “We tried to put ourselves in the shoes of our target audience—what do they need to know, how do we get that message to them in a meaningful way, and then how do we inspire them to go further.”

Scott Hays is the former editor of Digitrends magazine. He can be reached at

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