ForcesWatch comment

The Army’s new campaign brushes over the reality of military life – again
04/01/2019

Marketing careers which involve unique risks should be approached with a sense of social responsibility, acknowledging what is in the best interests of the target audience as well as the recruitment interests of the military.

This article was originally published in The Metro

The 'Your Army Needs You' campaign is the British Army's latest attempt to salve an ongoing recruitment crisis and update its image.

The aim, as ever, is to recruit both literally, in terms of getting people through the door, and ideologically, by shaping public perceptions of what the army is and does.

The latest campaign also comes as ForcesWatch and our partner organisation Medact prepare to release a new report highlighting concerns about military marketing techniques. One issue is that these marketing campaigns are most persuasive to the young with no discernible attempt to acknowledge the well-understood risks that military service poses to those under the age of 18.

The new productions are as slick, high-value and eye-catching as we have come to expect and the new 'millennial' focus seems to explain the several weeks General Nick Carter spent last November, and the year before, teeing-up this new recruitment formula.

This is an odd position given it is so-called millennials, those borne from roughly 1982 onwards, who have fought Britain's recent wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere, conflicts which Carter and his peers in the senior ranks of the military helped oversee.

Like its predecessors, however, these new offerings are skewed, propagandistic and continue to skip over fundamental truths about the nature of military service in their concern to emphasise that only in the army can you 'be the best'.

Firstly, this latest appeal to a generation of so-called 'snowflakes', 'me me me millennials' and 'binge gamers' frames military service as a sure route to fulfilment, satisfaction and advancement despite substantial evidence that joining up does not necessarily provide those things.

This is according to the military's own figures, with the most recent Armed Forces Continuous Attitude Survey indicating that levels of satisfaction among non-commissioned personnel have plummeted by 20 percent since 2010; in 2018 only 40% said they were satisfied with service life.

The MoD's latest survey of recruits shows that only half felt that they had an accurate picture of army life before joining. This speaks to the gap between reality and the fantasy of a service career portrayed by the marketing adverts and recruitment process more widely.

16-24 year olds are not only more vulnerable to marketing messages but also to the stresses involved in military life.

Regardless of the rhetorical framing, the subject of the first video, for example, is first and foremost a young person in a low-paid job. This is a much truer reflection of the army's recruiting targets. Their recent marketing briefs have explicitly identified its key audiences as adolescents from lower social-economic groups from cities with higher levels of deprivation. As well as exploiting the lack of opportunity offered by society to market dangerous careers, this is problematic because research shows that this group can be most vulnerable to the risks associated with military service. Adolescent development makes 16-24 year olds not only more vulnerable to sophisticated marketing messages but also to the stresses involved in military life.

Secondly, there are serious questions of both taste and attention to historical fact about the arguably flippant decision to reprise Lord Kitchener's WW1 propaganda posters to accompany the videos.

It seems clear from Carter's comments over the last two years that the 'millennial' recruitment angle has been in mind for some time. So why did the army hang back until after the WW1 Centenary was done to get started?

If it was bad taste in 2017 and 2018 to attempt such a re-hash of these posters, which helped direct the service people we have commemorated during the four-year centenary into the tragic, wasteful conflict which killed them, why is it acceptable two days into 2019?

At best this seems tasteless, at worst it is disrespectful and cheapens what many, including, one imagines, the military itself, consider a very serious and sombre topic.

No doubt those involved in this new campaign will be congratulating themselves on developing another sophisticated product that will attract tens of thousands of applications. We think that marketing careers which involve unique risks should be approached with a sense of social responsibility, acknowledging what is in the best interests of the target audience as well as the recruitment interests of the military.

Add your comments

Login to post comments