The U.S. Army had a short
list of big cities with the right mix of minorities (high), unemployment (also high), income and education levels (both low) for optimum recruiting. Among Philadelphia, Detroit, Baltimore, Newark,
N.J., and Los Angeles; Philly had the best retail space available. Working with digital marketing shop Ignited, the Army opened a sleek retail and video-game center in north Philadelphia's massive
Franklin Mills mall in September. It's betting about $12 million that the best way to recruit new soldiers during a controversial war is with shiny new toys.
"Video games are the
single common activity for our target of 17- to 24-year-olds," says Army Major Larry Dillard. So, the interactive entertainment does most of the persuading at the 14,500-square-foot Army
Experience Center. Visitors go on a virtual combat mission, shooting virtual terrorists on giant video screens, using real guns, Humvees and helicopters. Elsewhere, giant touchscreens let them gather
customized information about Army careers and bases around the world, using the same cutting-edge tech that Sony uses to hawk computers, says Matt Hrushka, Ignited's interactive guru. The Army
tracks the activities of visitors but promises not to contact anyone unless they agree to be contacted, not an easy decision for recruit-hungry Army brass. But research suggested young people would
spend more time at the center if it were opt-in, Hrushka says.
Whether high scorers or not, any of the gamers who end up enlisting will "probably" spend time in Iraq or
Afghanistan, Dillard says.