MBPT Spotlight: Message To Marketers: Don’t Forget About Generation V—Active Duty and Military Veterans

Much has been written about the value of marketers targeting Hispanic and African-American consumers, each of which have an annual cumulative spending power of $1 trillion. However, within those two consumer segments, as well as among white and Asian consumers, is another category with $1 trillion in annual spending power that doesn’t get as much attention—military consumers, active and retired.

Nielsen recently issued a report in which it documented how retail chain Walmart and restaurant chain Applebee’s effectively targeted military consumers in campaigns and got strong response in both ad appeal and ad memorability.

Tom Aiello, who is president of March Marketing, an agency specializing in myriad services targeting military members and veteran families has taken to calling military consumers “Generation V.”

Aiello, a West Point graduate, Kellogg School graduate and Army veteran, said in a Huffington Post first-person article, “If you thought we were formidable wielding million-dollar weapon systems, wait till you see 25 million of us standing shoulder to shoulder.”

Aiello says the military retail market in base exchanges alone has 12.3 million patrons and $19.8 billion in annual sales, and active military family income is twice the U.S. average, “and much more recession-proof.” He adds that veterans alone number 23 million with median earnings of $5,400 more per year than non-veterans, and many are receiving military retirement pay in addition to a second income.

Nielsen says military consumers have different habits than the overall population but “retailers and manufacturers can connect with them by keeping their age, demographics and locations in mind when marketing to this segment of shoppers.”

So what is the profile of military consumers? Nielsen data finds that 44.6% of active-duty family heads are under 35 years old—placing them in the millennial category, which most marketers today are big fans of trying to target. Nearly 60% of active-duty shoppers have families, with 28.2% having kids under age 6. About 40% are non-Caucasian, with a breakdown of 17.7% Hispanic, 15.1% African-American and 7.7% Asian.

A majority of active-duty military members and their families live in southern and western states. About 41% of active-duty members and 43.9% of overall military members live in southern states, while about 30% of active-duty military consumers live in western states.

The Nielsen data finds that active-duty military families spend more than the general population at grocery stores and also spend more at home improvement and automotive stores. About 64% of military consumers make purchases at home improvement stores compared to 51% of the general population. Just under 15% of military consumers spend at automotive stores compared to 9% of the general population.

Nielsen suggests that marketers in the home improvement and auto categories who use military themes could attract these consumers.

Hitting the Spots

The Nielsen report details a campaign by Walmart that began on Memorial Day 2013 when the chain started promoting its goal to hire 100,000 veterans over a five-year period, using its marketing and advertising to back those recruitment efforts. WalMart also aired three military-themed ads more than 1,200 times during 2013 and 2014.

One spot focused on troops returning home and reuniting with loved ones, one emphasized finding “service to the country beautiful”; and the other stressed the company finding value in hiring veterans. Walmart spent about $7.8 million to air the ads.

The results: 52% of viewers recalled the content of the Walmart military ads, which was 13% more than the typical Walmart ad during the same period; 40% of viewers recalled the content of the Walmart military ads in addition to the brand, 33% more than the typical Walmart ad; 29% recalled the content of the ads and identified the correct messaging, 26% higher than the typical Walmart ad; and 25% recalled the content of the ads and the brand and liked the ads “a lot or somewhat,” 67% higher than the typical Walmart ad.

Applebee’s, for a three-week period last fall, ran a “Thank You Movement” ad emphasizing the dedication and sacrifice shown by military members. The ad ran 700 times and reached 43% of the total population. Similar to the Walmart ads, the Applebee’s ad resonated on higher levels with viewers than their non-military themed ads.

Many marketers focus on military consumers specifically around holidays like Memorial Day, Veteran’s Day and the Fourth of July. But March Marketing’s Aiello says only targeting that segment during those windows means marketers are missing year-round opportunities.

Aiello points to the Budweiser ads such as the one with the returning troops walking through an airport being greeted by spontaneous applause, or this past year’s Super Bowl ad that documented Budweiser sponsoring a celebration for a returning soldier.

He said ads like those not only sent a direct message of gratitude to troops, but also created a positive impression for their brand for all viewers.

In his Huffington Post piece, Aiello issues a few words of caution to marketers who are going to try to reach military consumers. “To be clear, waving the American flag or flashing cool images of military hardware does not make effective, insightful communications to military veterans. We are deeper than that.”

He says veterans will be “turned off by communications pandering” to them “with overtly patriotic, disingenuous or unauthentic messages.” And he also cautioned marketers to make sure military images in the ads are authentic, i.e., hair at proper length, uniform to regulations and physically fit soldiers.

Aiello’s final word of caution: “Advertisers know to not only talk to the Hispanic audience during Hispanic Heritage Month or the African-American audience during Black History Month. Don’t fall into the trap of only communicating to veterans during Veterans Day or Memorial Day.”

To see Aiello’s original first-person Huffington Post article, go toHuffintonPost.com.