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The Army recruitment adverts: Hit or miss?

Written by the Editorial Team

by Paul MacKenzie-Cummins, Editor of Recruiter imPRint and managing director at CearlyPR

In an interview with the BBC last week, I was asked to discuss the latest British army recruitment adverts that have caused such a stir over the last seven days. Has the campaign enabled the army to ‘reach out’ to the right people and in the right way, or is it so far off the mark as to damage its employer brand altogether?

The adverts have caused quite a stir. Some have lauded them as abhorrent and an insult to the very people they’re aimed at, whilst others praise them for being bang on the money – citing the ‘buzz’ around them as being indicative of a successful recruitment campaign. There are arguments supporting both claims.

My own view – as someone who has helped to develop the employer brand of hundreds of organisations – is that this is a classic case of a recruitment marketing campaign that has utterly failed to ‘get’ its target audience. As such, it will prove to be a failure for several reasons.

A dated army?

The British army is one of the most technically advanced in the world, so why are they doing using antiquated imagery dating back to 1914? Using a century-old style is hardly indicative of a modern organisation, especially when the target audience is the first generation of digital natives.

This, to me at least, suggests a distinct lack of imagination on the parts of both the advertising agency creating the campaign and the army itself. It’s akin to Apple running a campaign with two people communicating to each other via a Morse Code receiver as the backdrop – hardly indicative of a modern brand. We are also reminded that the army is massively under-funded.

Your country doesn’t need this

Perhaps more worrying is the Lord Kitchener-inspired design. The Great War is widely recognised as perhaps the most pointless loss of life there has even been, with around 9.7 million military personnel losing their lives. Yet to use this imagery in a 2019 campaign is somewhat disconcerting.

Kitchener’s iconic rallying call worked superbly before the outbreak of that war, attracting recruits in their hundreds of thousands – millions. But, to romantically reprise a call to arms that led to the needless slaughter of so many seems a bizarre way to seduce today’s potential army recruits.

Not patronising, just misunderstanding

Much has been said about the use of language in this campaign. The Times cited research conducted by LinkedIn as being the basis of the campaign, in which it found that 74% of 16-24 year olds want a job with ‘purpose.’

This campaign isn’t targeted at those looking to go to Oxbridge. Rather, it is aimed at those with little or no interest in further or higher education and find themselves in a mundane job with few prospects. They may believe they have few skills of any real value.

However, the messaging misses the mark with its use of language. The suggestion is that the army considers the perceived weaknesses of this demographic as strengths – the ‘Compassion’ of ‘Snowflakes’, the ‘Self-Belief’ of ‘Me Me Me Millennials’, and the ‘Focus’ of ‘Phone Zombies’.

But it feels too much like your fifty-year old dad trying to show his 20-year old daughter how cool he is. It’s not patronising, it’s simply a lack of awareness of how to effectively engage their candidate base. It is, as Barbara Ellen described in The Observer, a ‘bungled campaign.’

Failure to manage expectations

The army has a major challenge – to recruit 5,000 new troops by 2020. But it also has a huge problem too; while they are able to attract applications, almost half (47%) of those who start their training voluntarily drop out before completing it. Their recruitment marketing must play a part in this.

The success of any recruitment marketing campaign is to not only position the organisation as an employer of choice, but also provide an insight into what it will be like to work there if they succeed in their application. Yes, there are education and training opportunities to be had and the opportunity to do some good for vulnerable communities in disaster zones. But it can also be a job that can be perilous with dire consequences.

The alternative approach?

  • Focus groups: The impression one gets is that the disconnect between the army and their target demographic exists because one hasn’t involved the other in the process – this is where a series of focus groups can really make a difference.
  • Clear messaging: It is questionable as to how many of these C2DE 16-24 year olds would understand the messages being conveyed. Accentuating the positive is one thing, but any campaign that fails to be understood within seconds of being seen by its intended audience is doomed to fail.
  • Sell the aspiration: The campaign is focused on getting its audience to recognise their own potential, but it needs to excite, create desire and prompt an immediate response. This campaign fails in that regard.

These are my thoughts, but what do you think? It can be argued that the hype surrounding this campaign suggests that the army have got it right, do you agree with this?