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Surfacing new recruits the Royal Navy’s secretive Submarine Service

Great State won the ‘Public Sector and Recruitment’ at The Drum Awards for the Digital Industries 2021. Here, the team behind the winning entry reveal the secrets of this successful project...

The challenge

Maintaining the nation’s nuclear deterrent and conducting top secret operations all over the world takes a highly trained, elite team. But for the Submarine Service – known as the Silent Service to Royal Navy personnel – recruiting that team is notoriously difficult.

Why? Well, research showed its core target audience of 16-24-year-olds generally fell into two categories: those who knew nothing about the Service and what it does, and those who had misconceptions.

In short, the Silent Service had been too hush-hush.

We were briefed to create a digital campaign that would drive a significant increase in both applications, especially from women, and the number of young people exploring Submariner life. Not an easy task when most of it is classified.

The strategy

Purely trying to educate a disengaged audience wouldn’t work. We needed to reframe how we talked about the Submarine Service, using our audience’s lack of knowledge to our advantage.

Creating a mystique and sense of intrigue around life a submariner, would give us a platform to gradually unpack the roles available and build confidence that it is a viable career path. It would also allow us to tap into Gen Z interests, such as gaming and tech, which have direct parallels with day-to-day life on board a submarine.

By gradually revealing information about the lifestyle and careers available, rewarding engagement with further information, we could start to gamify the discovery process. And by making subtle tonal changes throughout the journey, we could ensure the user got the content they needed, from initial excitement and curiosity to information and encouragement at application.

As part of this, our main objectives were to:

  • Distinguish the Submarine Service from the rest of the Royal Navy, both on social media and the campaign landing page.

  • Enable even the most skeptical users to discover the truth about life in the Submarine Service, challenging existing perceptions.

  • Overcome common barriers to entry by busting myths and presenting real-life accounts.

  • Prove that the top secret, highly classified message is authentic and not ‘too good to be true’.

  • Deliver a range of content that demonstrates the opportunities available to females in an area of the Royal Navy that was striving to meet diversity targets.

To stand out to new and existing users, we needed to look holistically at the submariner journey, understanding the motivations of potential recruits and adapting our messaging to meet those needs.

The campaign

We decided that using obfuscation and intrigue in both tone and art direction would allow us to subvert our existing recruitment approach, combining messaging that met user needs, with unexpected executions on a variety of channels. Redactions, blurring effects and glitches, with copy lines that talked straight to the user would be especially familiar to gamers and tech lovers.

Short form teasers and trailer-style content created a sense of anticipation, while further exploration was rewarded with more information through a bespoke landing page, targeted paid social and longer form organic content. Hidden easter egg links were placed on other recruitment pages to give the perception of a secretive alternative to those already considering a Naval career.

The art direction was perfectly suited to our strategy of gradually revealing more information and building the users’ confidence to the point of application. It also allowed us to be subtle in challenging their preconceptions around things like training, lifestyle and working environment.

User testing had told us that few people believed the stars of TV ads were real personnel. Of course, we knew they were. So, post-launch, organic social focused on further unpacking their careers, in their words. Challenges and triumphs. 100% authentic. Touching on truths without revealing any classified information. This also gave us a chance to showcase the experience of Emily and provide potential female recruits with a role model.

The results

At the start of our campaign, we knew that the majority of our target audience either didn’t know about the Submarine Service or had negative preconceptions. Our campaign changed that, with submariner careers in sharper focus than ever before.

  • A 698% increase in traffic to the Submariner page showed our success in increasing awareness and driving positive action

  • Increases of more than 50% in expression of interest (EOI) submissions and applications proved that our approach to gradually revealing information with secretive, intriguing messaging had resonated with our audience.

  • There was also a 55% reduction in time taken to apply from first expression of interest, from an average of 33 days down to just 15. This showed how we were successful in building confidence in potential recruits.

  • Our work with Emily and other female submariners also seemed to capture the imagination of a new generation, with female applicants increasing by 25% and application conversions increasing by 24%.

This project was a winner at The Drum Awards for the Digital Industries 2021. Find out which of The Drum Awards are currently open for entry.

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