Challenge: Refresh the Virginia War Memorial’s brand positioning.
Insight: War is divisive, but loss and mourning are universal.
Strategy: The Virginia War Memorial unifies us in remembrance.
After our briefing, we gauged the memorial’s reputation among Richmonders. If they didn’t know about it, there was little hope that people outside the city would. A combination of man-on-the-street and in-depth interviews of friends and family revealed scant awareness of the memorial. Even if they knew of it, they often had misinformation. Internal interviews with board members and employees showed ambitions for what the memorial could be, but wasn’t. Our challenge was to help the Virginia War Memorial fulfill its potential while opening up their messaging so that more possible visitors would feel welcome. I broke down the three main barriers below.
Perception that it was a memorial for the Civil War
Lack of awareness that there’s a museum inside
Potential non-military visitors think “it’s not for me.”
Finding a connection through loss (Strategy)
A theme throughout our research was a lack of belonging. Non-military visitors didn’t feel like they belonged. The name of the memorial didn’t feel like it fit. The tension of the Civil War hung over everything. Even if we clarified that the memorial honored those lost in later wars, the division that is intrinsic in war still remained. How could we welcome new visitors and still honor those lost?
The answer was in the name. The Virginia War Memorial was not actually about war at all. It was about memory and loss. It was about mourning. And the feeling of loss is something anyone can relate to. Loss, mourning, and remembrance became the bridges between the Virginia War Memorial and the community. Our strategy became “the Virginia War Memorial unifies us in remembrance.”
Bringing the names to life (Print Campaign)
Through the lens of our strategy, our creative concept became about putting faces to the names on the wall. By showing the faces and stories of those lost in war, we brought them off the wall and into the community. The benefit of this campaign was threefold. First, it dispelled the notion that Civil War soldiers were being memorialized. Second, it used archival information to show that more was going on at the memorial than just names on a wall. Third, it reached out to non-military visitors with a face and story that they could relate to. The print campaign also showed the revised name of the memorial: The Virginia War Memorial and Museum. This moved us out of the category of memorials and into the category of learning institutions, which would attract a more diverse array of visitors.
Giving the memorial new meaning (Augmented Reality)
Through augmented reality, we turned the wall of names into a wall of stories. We used archival information that the memorial kept and created an application that recognized the names and returned stories and pictures. For first time visitors, this gave the memorial more context.
To help train the docents that would use the iPads, we suggested bringing in high school students with an interest in history. Giving docents (who are veterans themselves) the opportunity to learn and share their stories while learning a new skill builds more bridges out to the non-military community.