If a picture’s worth a thousand words, the Army National Guard is hoping that a music video is worth a whole recruitment speech—especially if it’s directed by individual users, incorporates some of their personalized data, and gets posted to their social pages or emailed to their friends.
The National Guard’s new campaign, “EPIC: Remix Your Future,” lets users who might be interested in enlisting produce a music video, customizing the content to fit their service interests and musical tastes. They can play with an interactive mixing board, changing the levels for each of five scenes within the video and adding ambient sounds like troop calls and radio chatter or dramatic transition effects such as thunder and whooshing jets.
And by linking the app to their Facebook page through Facebook Connect, user can also see their name and those of friends off their Facebook list inserted on muster sheets, dog tags and other staged settings included in the videos. The effect is to bring viewers more nearly into the National Guard experience, helping them to visualize what their life would be like in the service.
“EPIC” was built by developers at Team Lucid, the same interactive firm that constructed a previous microsite for the National Guard a year ago. Called “Moments of Pride,” that promotion also combined user-submitted personal data with video footage to give a feel for life in the service.
“The Guard wants to position themselves as being tech-savvy and leading edge,” says Jason Kuntz, project manager for the EPIC campaign at Team Lucid. “They felt ‘Moments of Pride’ was a huge success and got people thinking about the Guard in a new light, and they wanted to know where else we could take that personalization.”
Given that the Guard was targeting a 17-to-24 age group, the focus on music was almost a no-brainer. What’s more innovative is giving users the ability to customize the production with choices of both soundtrack and video footage. Users get to select basic original music tracks in four genres—rock, country, pop and hip-hop—a useful spread given that the application is going out to a national audience.
But they also “direct” the video by choosing one of three themes to suit the nature of their interest: “Operations”, centering on action footage from real missions; “Bootstraps”, following a young recruit through basic training; and “Relief”, spotlighting the Guard’s role in helping out at home during natural disasters.
And those choices in turn determine what the user-created clip will focus on. For example, having selected “Operations”, a user will then express a preference for seeing more shots of tanks, ground troops or aviation. Someone who chooses “Relief” as a theme will have to decide to focus on wind, water or fire disaster footage, while “Bootstraps” leads to a choice of job assignments in medical support, logistics or communications.
At the next to last step, user encounter an online mixing board that lets them shape the soundtrack to the video, bringing up the guitars and horns for example and adding other ambient sounds.
“The biggest thing for the Guard was creating a dialogue, not just between them and the consumer but among the consumers themselves,” says Kuntz. “I’ve seen plenty of apps out there that let you remix songs, but I’ve never seen one that let you remix music and set it to multiple videos to create a fully produced piece. Given different combinations of theme, focus and music, you have 72 different videos that could be produced. It’s insane to think one application can deliver that much variety.”
That variety is meant to encourage visitors to return multiple times and to stay on the site longer per sessions, trying different combinations and musical settings. Kuntz says that metrics gathered since the application’s launch on March 1 indicate that users are spending on average more than 4 minutes interacting with the app—miniscule compared to the hours the target age group can spend playing online games, but about double the average time they spend on a Facebook page or non-gaming Web site.
The EPIC campaign and its high level of interactive engagement are just part of the National Guard’s growing reliance on social media and Facebook in particular, according to Major Tawnya Evans, social media program manager for the advertising and marketing branch of the Army Reserve National Guard.
As a member of the Guard’s strength sustainment division, Maj. Evans’ job is to encourage prospects across the country to consider what service in the National Guard might be able to offer them. That’s distinct from recruitment; enlistees don’t actually join Evans’ Guard but sign on for service in a specific state division. The task for Evans’ team is to capture visitors who might be looking to make a change in their lives and to suggest ways the Army National Guard might help foster those changes and that personal growth.
It’s really more a branding initiative than a recruitment campaign. “We’re concerned with the three C’s: consideration, clicks and conversation,” Evans says. “We try to get a two-way conversation going where we listen to what our audience is doing and what they want to know.
“That’s where we’re different from all the other services. They may have some pictures or whatever [in their Web or social content], but they’re not responding to the people at their site.”
For example, the National Guard’s Facebook profile has evolved at least partly in response to suggestions from visitors and prospective inductees. The pages now include a “Get Ready” tab that aggregates links to Guard Web content designed to help recruits get ready for basic, including more than 25 videos on physical fitness preparation and an online practice version of the test Guardsmen take to determine job aptitude within the service.
“The National Guard has recognized that social media is an excellent outlet for telling the Guard’s story,” says Maj. Evans. “We’re really using social media heavily in everything that we do, because it reaches out to all the audiences we are aiming for: the younger generation, their spheres of influence, and the supporting community.”
Even more social outreach is in the works. Plans are to launch a smartphone app next month that, thanks to the magic of augmented reality, will let users visualize themselves in a National Guard uniform and share those pictures with friends.