For the Super Bowl this Sunday, the military service branches are turning toward streaming platforms and social media to get their messages out during the big game, relying less on traditional media in hopes of reaching Gen Z.
The push to rely on less traditional media during the game also comes amid a historic recruiting crisis for most of the military services. The Army, Air Force and Navy all missed their recruiting goals last year -- only the two smallest branches, the Marine Corps and Space Force, met their target numbers.
However, the price tag for that effort remains a question mark. All of the service branches eagerly shared the innovative ways they'll be engaging with the American public during the Super Bowl, but none of them provided by publication the amount of money being spent -- taxpayer dollars going to premium advertising and outreach during the country's largest sporting event.
The Army -- the largest service and most impacted by the recruiting shortfalls -- is zeroing in on Spanish advertising by buying ad space for a dozen 30-second ads across Univision, ViX and Paramount+, which will be broadcasting or streaming the game in Spanish.
Separately, it bought ad space on Reddit and Instagram, popular social media platforms for younger Americans.
Hispanic recruitment has been key for the Army as it seeks to fill its ranks, with that demographic making up more of the force than the general population. In 2023, 23.5% of new recruits were Hispanic -- higher than the overall U.S. population, which is 19% Hispanic, according to the U.S. Census.
Last year, the Army had a shortfall of about 10,000 recruits, missing its target of 65,000 new soldiers. Part of the slump is due to young Americans being unable to meet the service's body weight or academic standards for enlistment.
Air Force on Snapchat and Miss America
Meanwhile, the Air Force's Thunderbirds, the service's flying demonstration team, will be doing the flyover of the Super Bowl at Allegiant Stadium in Paradise, Nevada, on Sunday.
But in addition to the physical flyover, the service is also using Snapchat to create a filter that will immerse fans in the stadium, as well as those at home, in the experience. A QR code to use the lens on smartphones will be displayed in programs as well as on the jumbotron at the stadium.
"The front camera places the user in the pilot's seat in Thunderbirds uniform flying over an aerial view of Las Vegas," Barry Dickey, the Air Force Recruiting Service's chief of strategic marketing, said in an email. "The back camera will activate the six F-16 Fighting Falcons in formation depending on where you are in the stadium."
A 30-second in-game Air Force ad was also placed on the jumbotron for the event.
The Air Force has set up a booth at the NFL fan experience, a side event with a festival atmosphere inside Mandalay Bay Convention Center, where potential recruits can get information and also meet Madison Marsh, the 22-year-old Air Force second lieutenant and master's student at the Harvard Kennedy School's public policy program who was just crowned 2024's Miss America.
Additionally, the service is sharing images with the Las Vegas Sphere for free 3-D advertising, Dickey told Military.com.
New Navy Reserve recruiting ad
The Navy is taking a much more muted approach to this year's big game, in contrast to last year when it took center stage at the Super Bowl with a flyover aimed at honoring female naval aviators -- though not without some controversy.
A Navy spokesperson told Military.com that the thrust of the service's physical presence will be the U.S. Navy Band, which will provide two musicians for a joint military color guard in support of the Super Bowl.
The spokesperson said that the Navy will "air a 30-second, in-game Super Bowl commercial in 14 key recruiting markets throughout the country." According to the spokesperson, the commercials will include a previously aired Navy recruiting ad, as well as a new commercial "developed to promote the Navy Reserve."
The Navy declined to say how much money it is spending on the advertising this year, but Lt. Cmdr. Richard Parker, a spokesman for the service's recruiting command did say that the commercials "are part of the Navy's overall annual paid media buy and are a segment of the larger strategy to reach both core target audiences of 17- to 24-year-olds," as well as their parents and relatives.
The Navy is also running a commercial during the Paramount+ broadcast of the game.
Marine Corps' 'Shifting Threats' ad
The Marine Corps -- which has met its recruiting goals, unlike other branches in the last few years -- is not advertising during the Super Bowl. Instead, like the Army and Navy, it will be airing four pre- and post-game commercials on Paramount+.
The advertisement that it will be airing is called "Shifting Threats," a commercial that features Marine Corps capabilities and service members as a response to evolving turmoil around the world. The purpose of the advertisement is to "increase brand awareness." The ad is expected to garner 26 million impressions, or when a user interacts with the content.
In the last several years, the Marine Corps has focused its efforts on Force Design -- a systematic change to the service meant to make it slimmer, more agile, and armed to the teeth with new technology. It hopes to showcase those efforts with the commercial, which is more than a year old, before and after the big game.
"The centerpiece of the Marine Corps isn't a platform; it's the individual Marine," Lt. Col. Rob Dolan, director of marketing and communication for Marine Corps Recruiting Command, told Military.com via email. "The concept behind the Shifting Threats campaign is to explain who we are and what we do for the nation while communicating the Marine Corps' identity to this generation of prospective Marines."
Coast Guard and veteran groups
The Coast Guard has no plans to advertise or participate in recruiting campaigns during the game but will have a member represent the service, alongside all the other branches, in the joint color guard from the Military District of Washington.
It also will play a role in the Department of Homeland Security's operations, with Coast Guard Pacific Strike Team supporting the detection system that identifies chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats.
In addition to the services, a veterans group whose mission is to recruit service members, military families and veterans to volunteer as poll workers on Election Day took advantage of the Nevada primary and caucus process as well as the lead-up to the big game to increase confidence in U.S. elections.
Vet the Vote, a campaign by We the Veterans, gave away Super Bowl tickets worth thousands of dollars to a veteran poll worker and attended the lead-up Super Bowl Experience on Wednesday as part of its campaign to recruit 100,000 people to work the polls on Nov. 5.
During the 2022 midterm elections, the group recruited nearly 64,000 workers.
"The nation's veterans and family members have proven their dedication to this country. Now, many of them are ready to serve again as citizens and are the ideal candidates to lead as agents of democracy," the nonpartisan, nonprofit group wrote in a release.