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Connecting With Women in the Military

3 minute read | May 2016

From the American Revolution to the present day, women have always played a crucial role in the U.S. military. However, the 1973 establishment of the All Volunteer Force truly opened the door to expand servicewomen’s roles and numbers. Since then, enlisted female personnel has grown by 376% to total more than 200,000 women as of 2015. And this number should continue to climb thanks to the U.S. Department of Defense’s announcement at the end of last year that all military occupations and positions will be open to women, including combat positions, at the start of 2016.

In addition to the women currently working across the different branches of the military, more than 2 million U.S. veterans are women. However, research by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has highlighted that female veterans are significantly different than their male counterparts. Having entered service in greater numbers more recently than men, female veterans are younger, with an average age of 49 versus 64 for men. They’re also more diverse and more educated.

Together, female enlisted personnel and women veterans make up a large—and growing—demographic. By understanding these women and their unique needs, retailers have the opportunity to serve this quickly increasing group—whether they’re working hard stateside or out on deployment.


Across the country, consumers are increasingly focused on their health and wellness, and military women are no exception. In fact, in several ways they’re leading this trend. Not surprisingly, women in the military are extremely active. More than two-thirds of military women jog, and 58.4% are swimmers. And they over index for both of these activities compared to all U.S. women 18 and up. Military women are also more likely to buy organic food than their female civilian counterparts.

Military women serve their country every day, and in their time off, they bring that mentality to their communities. These women are significantly more likely than other U.S. women to volunteer—in fact, 63.3% of these women give of their time. They also give back to the planet. Almost half of military women drive less or use alternative transportation, and 15.7% donate time or money to environmental causes.


Military women are an important and growing consumer group for retailers to reach. Female military households spend 12% more per trip ($37.10) than the average U.S. household. And they spread their spending across different types of stores—they spend less than all households at grocery stores but spend more at supercenters. 

However, between their service, focus on exercise and propensity to volunteer, these women are busy. As a result, they take 2% fewer shopping trips annually. This means retailers should tailor shopping experiences, so these families can find items quickly. With their focus on health and wellness, it’s not surprising that women in the military and female veterans spend more money than the average U.S. household on bottled water, while spending less on frozen juice and tobacco and alcohol.


Some retailers are already successfully reaching this demographic. Navy Federal Credit Union, a financial institution serving military members and their families, recently focused one of its ads, “Wedding,” on female military personnel. The ad was highly memorable with 55% of women 18 and older remembering the ad, well above the 43% Nielsen TV Brand Effect norm.

Nielsen’s Creative Evaluation survey tool provided deeper analysis about what made “Wedding” so impactful. The ad was considered to be both “original” (at a rate of 31% higher than the average ad) and “clever” (27% higher than average). Some viewers mentioned enjoying the twist of how it began with a serious tone, before moving in an unexpected humorous direction. Given that this creative approach deviates from the more serious tone associated with typical armed forces advertising, it makes sense that viewers considered this ad to be original and clever. 


The insights included data from Nielsen Scarborough USA+ R2 2014 & 2015; Nielsen CINA/Homescan Omnibus survey, April 2016; Nielsen Homescan Panel for the 52 weeks ending April 9, 2016; Nielsen Blue Book hierarchy – Total Line; Nielsen TV Brand Effect, 2016; and Nielsen Creative Evaluation, 2016.

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