The Navy is spending $457 million to recruit centennials, the generation after millennials
By KATHERINE HAFNER | The Virginian-Pilot (Tribune News Service) | Published: December 6, 2017
Just what does it take to get young people to join the Navy?
Parachutists, virtual reality and nearly half a billion dollars is a start, if the Navy’s new branding campaign is any indication.
With the campaign rolling out this weekend at the Army-Navy football game in Philadelphia, officials want to reach a new audience: centennials, born from the late 1990s to 2000s.
The Navy is working to recruit young men and women of that generation who have different goals and media-consumption habits than their predecessors, including millennials, said Rear Adm. Pete Garvin, commander of Navy Recruiting Command.
To that end, they’ve got a new logo and tagline: “Forged by the Sea.”
The Navy has lacked a consistent brand message over the years and has changed its slogan almost a dozen times over the past half-century, Garvin said. That’s “created difficulties in educating potential recruits about the Navy’s mission and benefits, bringing knowledge to the general public, and in building internal pride among Sailors,” he wrote on a Navy blog.
In 2014, the Navy ditched an unpopular slogan – “A global force for good” – for the simple “America’s Navy.”
The new brand, meant to denote that “Sailors aren’t born. They’re forged,” was developed starting spring 2016, when the Navy asked a New York marketing agency to create “an enduring and authentic brand identity,” according to a news release. The agency’s five-year contract could reach $457 million.
Garvin said while the Navy hasn’t had trouble meeting its recruiting numbers, officials realize they need to stay ahead of the curve and meet potential recruits where they are: online.
“The market is getting tighter. Unemployment is going down,” he said. “We have to remain competitive and remain nimble.”
That includes a shift from a 70-30 broadcast-to-digital ad ratio to 50-50.
Officials interviewed former and current sailors and held focus groups with people of all ages, including 17-to-21-year-olds, Garvin said.
“What we found was that there was nearly 100 percent awareness of the Navy, but zero percent understanding of the Navy’s full mission, reach and influence,” Ken Dowling, managing director of the agency, Y&R Memphis, said in a statement. “Centennials saw the Navy’s purpose as one dimensional and strongly tied to defense and combat.”
Thousands of taglines were considered before settling on “Forged by the Sea,” to communicate that the Navy “has evolved in response to the sea, and that sailors are tested and shaped by the Navy and their sea experience, becoming better versions of themselves.”
Garvin said some taglines tested well with, say, veterans, but not families, or vice versa. The final slogan was the closest to the middle in a virtual Venn diagram of different groups, he said.
The launch includes a print ad in the program of the Army-Navy game Saturday, commercials during its radio broadcast, virtual reality trucks parked near the stadium, billboard and bus wraps, banners flown by cheerleaders and the Navy parachute team, and social media. The Navy plans to push the marketing campaign through the winter and start a “full rollout” in March that will include a fresh wave of TV commercials.
The first ad carrying the new branding will air during the game and is dubbed “Sea to Stars.” It opens on a submarine and flashes to scenes of service members in different roles, including on small boats, an aircraft carrier, on planes and up into space.
It ends on the words: “From the depths to the stars.”
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