USAA brings pop-up Poppy Memorial to National Mall for Memorial Day

The organization wanted to position itself as a strong supporter of the military community.

Company: United Services Automobile Association (USAA)
Campaign: "A Poppy Worn, a Hero Honored"
Agency mix: Catalyst (PR), IMG Live (experiential), SapientRazorfish (social), Spark (advertising), Valco Designs (Poppy Memorial fabrication)
Duration: May 2018

United Services Automobile Association (USAA) paid tribute to fallen service members on Memorial Day 2018 with a pop-up memorial experience in Washington, DC, that contained more than 645,000 poppy flowers encased in a massive display. Each flower represented a life given in service of the country since World War I.

Strategy
The United Services Automobile Association, which provides banking and insurance services to U.S. military members, veterans, and their families, began planning for the campaign with its agency partners in January 2018.

Since 2016, USAA has run Memorial Day campaigns centered on the poppy flower. By honoring military holidays such as Memorial Day, USAA seeks to demonstrate appreciation directly to individuals who served in the military and position itself as a strong supporter of the military community. 

This year, USAA wanted to enhance and elevate its Memorial Day messaging by creating a moment of remembrance, with the goal of engaging audiences in a public setting in a way that would drive national conversation.

"The idea of putting The Poppy Memorial on public display to remember these service members really didn’t come until the end of February," said USAA’s CMO Wes Laird. "By mid-March, the team was full speed ahead in securing a location in Washington, DC."

In addition to the pop-up experience, the campaign team wanted to use media outreach to drive coverage in national, military, and local DC outlets.

Tactics
On May 16, the brand issued a press release announcing details of The Poppy Memorial and began national and regional media outreach efforts.

On May 23, the campaign team secured a feature in USA Today, which previewed the memorial prior to public opening.

Two days later, the 133-foot long Poppy Memorial opened to the public on the south side of the National Mall near the Lincoln Memorial. One side of the wall featured the poppy flowers, while the other featured a collection of facts and figures. The exhibit also featured interactive screens where visitors could learn about fallen service members memorialized.

"Bringing The Poppy Memorial to the National Mall was dependent on coordination and approval from the National Park Service, which proved to be very supportive by providing swift approvals," added Amber Seikaly, VP of corporate communications at USAA.

On May 27, the final day of the pop-up, Fox News hosted America’s News HQ live from the memorial.

In order to help make the campaign accessible for those who couldn't attend the pop-up, the brand brought back a website developed for their 2017 Memorial Day, PoppyInMemory.com, which allows people to dedicate digital poppies and share on social. A few unique features for this year's iteration of the website included a virtual reality experience and a promotion supporting the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors.

The brand supported the campaign with visuals of the pop-up on social and also retweeted an organic post from MLB star pitcher, Justin Verlander.

Results
"More than 15,200 people visited the memorial in DC and 26,000 Facebook accounts shared a news story about coverage of the campaign," said Seikaly.

USAA spokespeople completed more than 42 media interviews as part of the campaign, generating more than 650 placements. Notable coverage included ABC News, CNN, NPR, and PBS NewsHour, as well as military outlets such as Military Times and Military.com.

Visits to PoppyInMemory.com increased 98% over last year, with nearly 29,000 digital poppies being dedicated, more than twice the dedications year-over-year.

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