If you're from a lower-midscale-to-downscale family in a rural area with a high-school education, the Department of Defense knows you're a strong candidate for the military. That's not surprising. But that's not all the military knows, because today it can also tell by what media you consume and hobbies you pursue what branch of the military should go after you.
Much to the chagrin of privacy advocates who have decried the military's database of millions of names, the armed forces has grown increasingly sophisticated in targeting, as research from the Pentagon's Joint Advertising, Market Research & Studies project shows. Drilling deep into U.S. military applicant data from 2000 to 2004, the group has finely sliced and diced its data enough to determine that the U.S. Army's prospective recruits come from households likely to listen to Spanish radio and that the reading list at the households of U.S. Marine Corps prospects includes Car Craft, Guns and Ammo and Outdoor Life.
The applicant information "in combination with other analytical tools, can help the services identify segments of the population and geographical areas that are more receptive to the military," said a Pentagon representative. The research was distributed to the different services during the summer. Such information is crucial as the armed forces increasingly rely on direct- and interactive-marketing communications to reel in recruits. Not only do they need to cut through clutter and navigate a fragmented media environment, they need to find people open to joining the military.
For the Army, one-to-one marketing is becoming increasingly important as it struggles to fill boots as the guerrilla war in Iraq grinds on. The estimated $200 million Army account is in the midst of a mandated, and protracted, review expected to wrap up before Christmas-and executives familiar with the process said the Army is placing a premium on direct, interactive and other one-to-one marketing tactics.
An Army spokesman declined to comment on the ongoing review or future plans. But he said direct marketing has fairly consistently represented about 10% of the Army's marketing activity, but wouldn't disclose spending.
Targeting is more important for the Navy as well, said Barbara Hays, senior VP-group management supervisor at Campbell Ewald, Warren, Mich., which recently won a mandated review to retain the business. "We are getting more and more segmented," she said. The Navy has stepped up its usage of e-mail vs. direct mail over the past five years and is exploring emerging media such as cellphones and text messaging.
The Pentagon, using a census-based segmentation system from Claritas, identified 18 groups (see chart, above) that provide the highest rate of prospective recruits for the military, according to materials presented last month at a conference of recruiting scholars.
The groups-given labels (borrowed from Claritas) such as Beltway Boomers, Big Sky Families, Sunset City Blues (blue collars) and Shotguns & Pickups-represent a diverse range of households. But some commonalities emerge. Of the 18 household segments, 10 have income characterized as "lower midscale" or "downscale." Eight are small-town or rural. And for eight, a high-school diploma is the highest academic achievement.
Whites are a component of all but two of the 18 segments. The exceptions-"Multiculti Mosaic" and "Family Thrifts"-consist of African-Americans and Hispanics, according to the data. The 18 "high-performing segments" represented 27% of U.S. households in fiscal 2003 but made up about 37% of applicants, according to the Pentagon.