2015 EFFIE Award Preview: Project Architeuthis

Category: Media Idea

Client: America’s Navy

Agency: Lowe Campbell Ewald

Title: Project Architeuthis: Engaging America’s Cyber Warriors (link is external)

The Project Architeuthis campaign from America’s Navy and Campbell Ewald proves that big results don’t always require big budgets. The initiative focused on recruiting hard-to-find Navy cryptologists, but had no paid media budget despite worsening market conditions. It fused target insights, creativity and social media knowledge into one idea so powerful it generated its own success.

Challenge: Navy sets recruiting goals for its all-volunteer military force, including targets for especially hard-to-fill roles (e.g., doctors, chaplains, nuclear engineers, cryptologists). In FY2014, it faced an especially tough market:

  • The U.S. unemployment rate had dropped 18% (to 5.9%), important because the lower the rate, the harder it is to find people who qualify for and want jobs in the Navy.
  • Press coverage in America reached new highs regarding the importance of a college education for long-term life success, a cultural hurdle for those considering an alternative path.
  • There was a high level of consumer confusion regarding America’s war status in the Middle East (the higher the perceived danger, the lower the consideration people give to joining the Navy).
  • Congressional “budget sequestration” severely impacted government spending, forcing across-the-board cuts including a 22% decrease in Navy’s total communications budget.

Despite these challenges, the goal for recruiting cryptologists — sailors who make and break codes and are responsible for Navy’s digital/cyber security — was not reduced vs. the prior year.

Solution: Exploration of the small and elusive cryptologist target audience revealed an intriguing insight: “The brightest cryptology minds can’t resist the aroma of a nearly impossible puzzle.”

From this, Project Architeuthis was born, an augmented reality game (ARG) where characters, cryptologic clues, tips and updates were revealed via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr. provided cryptology job information and a lead generation form.

The ARG storyline revolved around Maria, the fictional Navy protagonist who discovered an enemy plot and snuck aboard the adversary’s submarine. She then sent out coded clues via different social media platforms over the course of 18 days, which players had to decipher in order to lead Navy rescuers to Maria and foil the enemy plot.

Although some players worked alone to solve the puzzles, many created sub-communities and teamed up to help each other progress through the game. Some groups even chose to communicate in code to keep their messages private and out of the “line-of-sight” of the game’s enemy force. The game took on a life of its own, mirroring the kind of camaraderie that takes place in the real Navy Cryptology community.

Results: Project Architeuthis succeeded in generating visibility for Navy Cryptology, creating a digital information path for prospects, and inspiring them to spread the word. As a result, Navy not only met its recruiting goal, it did so ahead of schedule. The campaign’s success was highlighted in an innovative analysis of unstructured social media data that revealed a significant, highly correlated relationship between ARG participation, lead generation and cryptology enlistment, which grew stronger as engagement in Project Architeuthis deepened.

Effie Awards (link is external) are known by advertisers and agencies globally as the pre-eminent award in the marketing industry and recognize any and all forms of communication that contribute to a brand’s success. Gold, silver and bronze Effie winners will be announced at the 47th annual North American Effie Awards gala on June 4 in New York.