We use cookies to personalize content, to provide social media features and to analyze our traffic. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. For information on how to change your cookie settings, please see our Privacy policy. Otherwise, if you agree to our use of cookies, please continue to use our website.

USAA Encourages Military Appreciation

Veterans Day effort drives tremendous business results


  • 75%

    Incremental reach to TV among target demographic

  • 70M

    Impressions generated, with 40 million in unique reach

  • +22

    Point increase in brand favorability

  • +15

    Point increase in ad recall

  • +11

    Point increase in brand awareness

  • 62%

    Boomer reach as part of TV campaign

  • 60%

    Millennial reach as part of Facebook + Instagram campaign

  • 6.7M

    Video views

  • 100K

    Landing page visits

  • USAA Comment 1
  • USAA Comment 2
  • USAA Comment 3
  • USAA Comment 4
  • USAA Comment 5

Key to Success:

  • An impactful creative concept
  • A data-driven, people-based marketing approach to audience, creative testing, and media optimization
  • Deep platform expertise and partnership to maximize capabilities
  • Integrated USAA teamwork between social, media, analytics, and creative in collaboration with Merkle and Facebook
  • Strong USAA executive sponsorship by marketing and social businesses


San Antonio-based USAA, a financial services and insurance group serving military members and families, implemented a branding campaign to stimulate meaningful appreciation for the men and women who have served our nation. 

The goals of this campaign were to:

  • Reach consumers previously exposed to the TV spots, as well as those not reached by TV.
  • Lift brand awareness and favorability through experiences with content and social engagements that showed genuine appreciation for Veterans.


“Balancing the art and science of a methodical, data-driven campaign that is also able to humanize our brand with great creative execution is at the heart of our social strategy. Our Veterans Day campaign series enabled us to connect and engage with the military community in a very relevant and emotive way with outstanding business results.”

Renee Horne

Vice President, Social Business, USAA

Campaign Strategy

Whether they served for a short time or made the military their career, our Military Veterans have made significant sacrifices in doing so, be it their time, their safety, their health, even their lives. Regardless of how or why they joined, they swore to protect and defend the Constitution – and by proxy, the United States, its citizens, and each other – long before they knew what they might be asked to do. The objective of the campaign is to inspire a heightened appreciation for our veterans by sharing personal stories of service, as told by their own loved ones. Their willingness to serve is deserving of the deepest sense of honor from all Americans.

We focused on the Oath as the anchor point for the core creative idea. This specific act is a unifying, iconic, and memorable moment to those who have served – one that acknowledges and honors ALL veterans, regardless of length or nature of service.

Creative Strategy

The TV spot provided one core creative asset for both video and still photo posts. Additionally, USAA developed videos of many Veteran interviews centered on the concept of the Oath. With all these assets, a high volume of posts was developed, with variations of formats such as video, photo, carousel, and placements on both Facebook and Instagram. This allowed for both a steady stream of published content for the week leading up to Veterans Day, as well as significant creative inventory for optimization of best performing creative by audience.

Call to Action

First, in-platform engagement (view/like/share/comment) was encouraged in reaction to the content, including questions about the Oath. The messaging also conveyed a suggestion for consumers to click to a USAA landing page (www.thosewhodared.com), which contained an app to update their Facebook profile picture in support of veterans. This drove a deeper engagement with the brand and ability to express a ‘Thank You’ to Veterans with their profile picture.

Steps 1 - 3

Media Strategy


The audience was segmented into three primary groups:

  1. USAA Members (using Facebook Custom Audiences)
  2. Those likely to be eligible for USAA (using look-alike and military-related native targeting)
  3. Mass population

The campaign also structured those audiences with placements across Facebook-Desktop, Facebook-Mobile, and Instagram. All of this segmentation allowed for optimizations and control over the reach-frequency objectives. For example, while reach was one campaign goal, it was also important for USAA Members to experience the campaign, so that audience allowed for a higher frequency and CPM than others.


With a one-week campaign window, a series of media tactics was deployed to quickly hone in on the optimal audiences, devices, and creative. The first few days of the campaign focused on creative testing at a light spend while we learned what worked best. Then, given the critical timing of the campaign on the days leading up to and including Veterans Day, the scaled spend was done through a reach-frequency buy. As Instagram showed exceptional performance, budget shifted from Facebook to Instagram relative to the original plan, supporting extended reach against the target demographic. Over 400 optimization adjustments in bids, audiences, and creative prioritization were made over the course of the campaign to maximize the results.


Veterans Day 2014 had the same core creative concept with a smaller-scale activation (in both media spend and creative content). We learned baseline performance metrics and engagement behavior on both video and photo posts. We also learned that the audience sustained engagement over a ‘pre-event’ window leading up to Veterans Day, so the campaign duration could be extended. A campaign conducted during Memorial Day 2015 provided great insights around audience targeting and the effectiveness of reach-frequency buying. Additionally, from prior product campaigns we learned the importance of not just product lift/control testing, but also Nielsen Brand Effect – where USAA achieved the #1 Ad Recall observed on Facebook for Financial Services.

The Facebook and Instagram platforms enabled USAA to:

  • Access a scaled target audience who would not otherwise be reached by TV
  • Leverage Custom Audiences, Look-Alike-Audiences, and Native Targeting
  • Seamlessly manage campaign, audience, and objectives across Facebook and Instagram
  • Test multiple ad formats; for example, video cards in carousels and video posts with website click objective
  • Test multiple buying methods including reach-frequency
  • Encourage multiple ways to engage in support of Veteran appreciation

Thematically, the creative concept was consistent across media to include TV, display, print, e-mail, landing page, and Facebook + Instagram. What was unique was the amplification of a more extended story beyond the one video or one image available in other media. It provided an opportunity to engage more deeply with the experience.

From a targeting perspective, we were able to synchronize Facebook and Instagram media delivery at the same time and DMA as when/where TV spots aired. The ability to manage the campaign and audience reach seamlessly across Facebook and Instagram was also crucial in achieving objectives in an optimal way.


The creative concept and assets were developed by the USAA creative team, including the interviews and video production. Merkle then developed a strategy to express those assets in Facebook and Instagram, with design and copywriting of a series of videos, photos, and carousel posts for purposes of both sequential publishing and promoted post optimization.

The key to success was the sincerity of the creative development, given USAA’s deep understanding and appreciation of what it means to serve. Complementing this was Merkle’s approach of staying true to the primary concept, being objective-focused, and letting the capabilities of Facebook and Instagram drive creative expressions in a number of ways, which was optimized in media execution.

“The marketing capabilities on Facebook and Instagram have enabled USAA to apply analytics, targeting, and measurement to achieve its goals. We love supporting USAA in combining strategy, creative, and media to realize the full potential for all of USAA’s objectives – from providing its members with financial security to showing genuine appreciation to our veterans and their families.”

Matt Greenawalt

Vice President, Client Partner, Insurance

Discover how we did it. Contact us today.