Army increasing recruiting efforts to connect with youth in Chicago

By Gary Sheftick, Army News ServiceApril 8, 2019

Chicago recruiting test 'micro-targeting' neighborhoods
In October, the Army's Marketing and Research Group launched a recruiting campaign in Chicago to aim Internet advertisements at 17- to 24-year-olds in specific neighborhoods across the city and surrounding suburbs. The program has increased the numbe... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

WASHINGTON -- A recruiting pilot program in Chicago has increased the number of young men and women responding to the Army's messaging in that city by about 16 percent.

"We took a very hard look at ourselves and how we're communicating to 17- to 24-year-olds in the country," Under Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy said March 21 during a presentation at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"We looked at ourselves and said we were kind of getting fixed to certain areas of the country," he said about recruiting resonating in the rural South and Southwest. "And with that we said we need to get back to the cities."

Last summer, the Army looked at how recruiting was lagging in some of the nation's largest population centers, specifically 22 cities.

Propensity to serve in the military has been about 11 percent across the country, McCarthy said, but in Chicago, it was only 4 percent.

In October, the Army's Marketing and Research Group launched a recruiting campaign in Chicago to aim Internet advertisements at 17- to 24-year-olds in specific neighborhoods across the city and surrounding suburbs.


The test was dubbed the "Army Marketing and Recruiting Integrated Pilot Program" because AMRG is not only working with the Army Recruiting Command, but also with the Cadet Command and Army National Guard.

Brian Scarlett, the project lead, explained that youth in different neighborhoods responded to different types of messaging. For instance, youth on the South Side of Chicago -- a diverse working-class neighborhood -- responded to messaging about pay and benefits, such as healthcare and insurance.

Youth on the more affluent North Side responded primarily to messaging about leadership and travel opportunities, and how ROTC could help them get more out of college, Scarlett said.

In the western suburb of Downers Grove, he said messaging about part-time duty with the reserve components near home was what interested residents.

In order to determine audience demographics in various neighborhoods, AMRG staffers first looked at data from the last census. Then they conducted a survey in Chicago and its suburbs.

Segmentation models were built for the various neighborhoods and they began advertising with digital billboards at malls and around the city.


After crafting Internet banner ads directed at neighborhood demographics, Scarlett said each week he and his staff review the ad performance analytics and "optimize" ads to better reach their intended audience.

This is a first, he said. "This is something AMRG has not done in the past. We have not constantly on a weekly basis been checking our advertising and making sure they are hitting our target market accurately."

Now they change ads weekly for the different Chicago neighborhoods if they're not hitting the mark.

"We're constantly optimizing," he said.

As a result, the number of impressions seen weekly in the region have gone up from 3 or 4 million a couple of months ago to nearly 10 million two weeks ago to almost 13 million impressions now, he said.

The clicks on ads have gone from about 5,000 per week to between 9,000 and 10,000, he said.

At the same time, advertising costs tend to come down weekly, he said, as optimization brings about more efficiencies.

Also by optimizing, the Army team realized that they needed to have ads on mobile apps, including games. That "tweak" two weeks ago was one of the things that pushed up stats, Scarlett said.


Last month, the Army began focusing more on social media ads in Chicago, he said. A recent Facebook video ad had 2 million impressions there, for instance.

In addition, the Army is now purchasing words on the Google search engine.

"We bid on words against other organizations and purchase them," he said. "When people are typing in certain words, they will get an advertisement… that will drive them to our landing page" on

For instance, when words such as "engineering" or "infantry" are searched, the Army may pop up near the top of Google searches in some Chicago neighborhoods.

"We try to get words that are general and will attract a wide swath of people," he said.

Not only does location affect the Google search, Scarlett said age and personal Internet history also affect it.

"Micro-targeting is so refined to the point that you might never get the same commercial as I get because of our age demographics and what we're looking at," Scarlett said. He explained that some senior officers searching the Internet in Chicago did not get the same results as teenagers, but that's the way it works.


As a result of the campaign, visitors to have gone up 13 percent in the Chicago area.

Activation -- defined as when viewers click on an element or engage -- has gone up 27 percent from a year ago, he said.

Recruiting leads have gone up 16 percent, he said. These are young men and women who contact recruiters wanting more information about the Army.

It normally takes at least 120 days for leads to result in new recruits, Scarlett said, so more definitive results on recruiting in Chicago should be coming in soon.

The one-year test continues in Chicago through the end of September, he said. Boston is the next city for the test, and Scarlett said preparations are now underway to launch the pilot program there in late spring or early summer.

And AMRG is looking at some of the other 22 cities as places they'd like to possibly expand the program to, Scarlett said.

The Army is getting much more sophisticated in how it messages potential recruits, McCarthy said.

"We're doing things very differently; we're touching more folks and we're getting back to the fundamentals," the under secretary said. "It's exciting and the results are starting to trickle in."

Related Links:

Army News Service

ARNEWS archive

Soldiers magazine features

Under Secretary of the Army

Army Careers: Ways to Serve in the Army