See All You Can Be: U.S. Army Tries Experiential Marketing

Army Guards On the theory that potential recruits are more likely to sign up if they know what they're getting into, the U.S. Army just opened a 14,500-square-foot "Army Experience Center" in Philadelphia's Franklin Mills Mall. The center will also let the Army test and refine various marketing techniques for broader use in its national recruiting campaigns.

Visitors to the AEC can participate in mission simulations and interact with online programs telling them about careers, training, and educational opportunities, such as college tuition. According to Secretary of the Army Pete Geren: "Potential recruits are afforded a unique opportunity... to virtually experience multiple aspects of the Army." This includes plenty of chances to see and handle cutting-edge (non-lethal) military gadgetry.

Activity areas include a command and control center (headquarters), the interactive career center and vehicle simulators for the Apache helicopter, Black Hawk helicopter and Humvee. There are also gaming areas featuring the U.S. Army's official game, "America's Army," on Xbox 360 pods and networked computers.



In some ways, the AEC is simply an extension of the recruiting game concept, according to Edward Walters, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Recruiting and Retention, who said "the Army has had great success with experiential marketing and communications, including the America's Army game and the Virtual Army Experience."

While the Army didn't say so explicitly, the emphasis on nifty technology and interactive, self-directed experiences seems to cater to young adults used to controlling their media environment who may be leery of the traditional "hard sell" used by human recruiters. (The main human interaction comes from Army soldiers simulating their real roles.)

Despite the war in Iraq, all branches of the military have generally been able to meet their recruiting goals in recent years--but often by the barest of margins. The task is especially daunting for the Army, which has some of the highest recruiting targets. According to the Department of Defense, in July all the branches made their recruiting goals, with the Army aiming to recruit 10,000 people, the Marines 4,094, the Air Force 2,541 and the Navy 4,200.

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