(IDG) -- A sword embedded in a smoldering metal sphere rises from primordial mist. The comic-book-style illustration appears at the center of a stark black Web page as hand-lettered words fade in: "They are born in an inferno that tests both mind and body. Those who complete the challenge become beacons of honor, courage and commitment. What does it take to be one of the few? The answer lies within."
If you enter, you reach the "processing" page: "Tell us a little about yourself and we'll tell you what it takes to become one of us." This is no superhero adventure. It's a recruiting site for the U.S. Marine Corps.
The armed forces are in a recruiting crisis; even the popular Air Force may miss its enlistment goals for the first time in 20 years. And the Defense Department says the conflict in Kosovo has done nothing to inspire – or discourage – enlistment at the national level.
All four branches of the U.S. military are turning to the Web for help. "We know our site is working because we had 2,000 visitors per day a year and a half ago and we're up to 5,000 visitors per day now," says Maj. Mike Shepherd, U.S. Army Recruiting Command chief of marketing communications. Growth in Web-generated leads has increased over the past 18 months "to the tune of about 200 percent," Shepherd says. URLs are now incorporated into broadcast ads, posters, CD-ROMs and printed brochures for the four branches of service.
Launched in August 1998, www.navy.com has a patriotic feel. The homepage features a sailor saluting, the Blue Angels flying in formation and the waving Stars and Stripes. "It says honor, courage and commitment," says Paul Krygowski, creative director at Organic Online, the company that built the site with the Navy's ad agency, BBDO.
The site aims to increase awareness of the Navy's extensive technical training and career opportunities, something that usually makes kids think "Air Force." One section features an interactive game, in which the player helps a Navy pilot complete his mission while learning about a variety of Naval careers. A redesign will place even heavier emphasis on education, training and travel opportunities, which are what interest potential recruits the most, focus groups show.
In May, the Army will debut a redesign of its own. Originally launched in 1995 with the help of ad agency Young & Rubicam, the current site suffers from its own success. Each group within the Army wanted a piece of the homepage, and as a result, www.goarmy.com is an unfocused portal that channels visitors into separate sites for openings as diverse as the Army Chaplains and the Special Forces. The new site will maintain the breadth of job offerings but will have a more consistent look and more interactivity. "We want to show everyone pictures of people in action so that they can look at it and say, 'Hey, that could be me,'" says Shepherd.