As Memorial Day is upon us here in the States, it is interesting to take another quick look at a group that is passionate, young, loyal, appreciative, athletic, budget conscious and enthusiastic, yet is among one of the most underserved groups for brands looking to reach the male demo and grow a fan base…the men and women of the military. While the Federal Government continues to bemoan the lack of ROI The National Guard had with its large NASCAR spend last year(although was the goal awareness or direct recruiting?) and have announced bigger cutbacks in sports spending on recruiting advertising despite the current administrations passion for all things military (over $80 million affecting properties like fishing and NASCAR at first), it remains a quandry as to why many brands looking for that young active male demo don’t go right to the bases and places where these loyal families and “captive” audiences sit. Armed Forces Radio and TV remains a very fertile and cost efficient ground for sports brands to reach a loyal audience, and bases are always looking for programs to keep the troops and their families busy and connected to mainstream America. More importantly, these groups, once discharged, remain very loyal to those who supported them while serving their country, with NASCAR-like brand buying and affinity. So why don’t more brands look to use sports to activate with the troops on base and in their communities vs. in stadium? Of course the immediacy of media at a game is powerful and impactful, but going to the troops and their families will also have a long lasting effect for those who care to take the step.
Is it because of the perception of Red Tape? The sometimes transient nature of the military and their families? Neither are clear but for those brands who can figure it out, the captive audience waiting to attach to their products, services and even teams as potential viewers and ticket buyers, is huge. Now there are a number of strong programs that serve as one-offs for honoring military men and women once at the game to give them and their families a chance to attend events. Camoflage Kids is one great one, and on Memorial Day MLB will have a series of ceremonies at all games, but those are all outbound programs once these young people are on site. Brands should look to base activation programs, tied to sports, to really make a sound investment. Ironically some of the bigger spenders against the market are USAA and Navy Federal Credit Union, organizations which can ONLY be used by military and their families, yet they use sport as a key way to reach that demo.
Now virtually every sports property honors a local vet during a break in play and again this week MLB is going the cammo route with uniforms. Those moments are inspirational for sure. Some teams have set about hiring programs for those returning to civilian life. All good. However sustaining programs that support the military and their families at the core rather than just a base visit here or there is really what would be unique. It may not sell huge amounts of tickets at first, but the word of mouth amongst the military is very powerful, and the legacy built in for what will be a long future of a solid fan base or a consumer alliance is probably well worth the initial investment. Several lifestyle sports…NASCAR, the UFC, Ironman…have done a good job with putting their brand with the core of the military. Finding a brand to activate with that sport is still not easy though, but combining that powerful sports brand with a solid consumer program is something that is worth cracking as we hopefully move toward more troops coming back to the States and entering civilian life.