British army ‘explicitly targeting’ working-class recruits, say critics
British military recruiters are targeting working-class young people who like risk, are easily influenced and are poor at money management, a briefing document for a glossy army advertising campaign suggests.
The document for the army’s This Is Belonging campaign also highlights a drive to recruit young people in cities in northern England and to grab the attention of possible recruits in places such as gyms, pubs and cinemas.
However, the document warns against showing This Is Belonging adverts before war films. Campaigners against the recruitment of child soldiers say this is to protect the “sanitised” version of army life that the campaign promotes, though the army insists it is because it does not want to attract recruits who glory in violence.
There is concern about some of the army’s tactics for drawing in new recruits. In the summer the Guardian revealed that the army had aimed This Is Belonging material at stressed and vulnerable 16-year-olds via social media on and around GCSE results day.
The briefing paper gives details of how and where This Is Belonging adverts should be placed and gives an insight into some of the thinking behind the campaign, which critics claim gives an unrealistic and romantic idea of life in the army.
Under the heading “target audience”, the document says: “16-24, primarily C2DE”, marketing speak for the lowest three social and economic groups. It says TGI (target group index) work had found that current regular soldiers:
- Are ambitious and money-driven but not good at money management.
- Have a thirst for variety of risk.
- Are likely to be influenced by those around them.
Under the heading “digital campaign”, the document says “focus locations” are the northern cities of Newcastle, Sunderland, Middlesbrough, Liverpool, Leeds, Sheffield, Bradford and Manchester, as well as London, Birmingham, Glasgow and Cardiff.
It says examples of places where OOH (out of home) adverts have worked well include gyms, pubs, bars, sports centres and five-a-side football events. Giving details of how adverts should be used in cinemas, it says: “Usual rules of non-combat films, minimum 12A certificate.”
Isabelle Guitard, the director of programmes at Child Soldiers International, said the document showed British army recruiters continued to disproportionately target young people from poor, working-class backgrounds with limited opportunities.
“They explicitly target adrenaline-seeking teenagers who are easily influenced by those around them. If underage enlistment were really the great opportunity the MoD claims it is, recruitment campaigns wouldn’t need to target their adverts at children with few options.
“The army’s focus on areas where employment opportunities are limited reflects not only a desperate need to fill a recruitment shortfall but a cynical exploitation of the shortage of adequate career and training choices for all young people in society.”
This editorial in BMJ Paediatrics Open (2019, vol 3, issue 1) discusses the issues raised in the Medact report, The recruitment of children by the UK Armed Forces: a critique from health professionals, which brought together evidence highlighting the increased risk of death and injury for those recruited under the age of 18. The authors, Reem Abu-Hayyeh and Guddi Singh, contributed to the content and launch of the report Selling the military: A critical analysis of contemporary recruitment marketing in the UK by ForcesWatch and Medact.