Waging War Against Prejudice: The Millennial Guide to Army Recruitment

The recent release of the British Army’s latest campaign to boost recruitment was met with a mix of widespread praise, widespread criticism, and fierce debate. 

The new campaign marks a shift from previous recruitment activity, by rejecting stereotypes which promoted a more traditional, combative, and masculine picture of army life. The new collection of ads feature current soldiers reflecting upon “Keeping my Faith” and asking, "What if I get emotional?" and "Can I be gay in the Army?".  These adverts no longer call on army recruits to just “Be the Best” and instead centre on a unifying theme of ‘belonging’. 

The Army’s target demographic is 16-24-year olds. In these tumultuous times, it’s no secret that young British men and women are more socially and politically engaged than they have been for a very long time. So, it’s no surprise that the army had to change course in its marketing. In some ways, one could argue that at its core this change is simply opportunistic. But the execution of these adverts is authentic and thoughtful. The voiceovers are honest and vulnerable, without being cloying. The young men in these adverts feel real and are speaking directly to millennials; the adverts make their target demographic a priority and that shows. This campaign is a shrewd move by the British Army to regain some much-needed relevance and respect. 

The re-branding was driven by concerns over The Army falling short of its recruitment targets by 30% in 2017, and research finding that people perceived the old “Be the Best” slogan to be “dated, elitist and non-inclusive”. There was a pressing need to overhaul public perception and widen the pool of potential recruitments beyond young, white, working class men.. This country’s demographic make-up is changing rapidly, and The Army needed to evolve alongside it.These adverts could be perceived as inherently negative; presenting the army as an organisation in constant need of defending itself. But the reality is more complex. To break free of an entrenched labyrinth of negative stereotypes, the army has no choice but to face them head on. Any other approach would be a cop-out.

The backlash to this approach was swift and biting. Naturally, most critiques of the campaign accuse The Army of turning its back on the young, white, working class men whom it has traditionally courted, in a baseless and transparent pursuit of political correctness. A reviewer from the SoundOut panel said the adverts would appeal to politically correct people rather than those with the drive to fight. “It’s almost like a joke, because after all the core function of an army is to kill, so emotions seem like secondary to the task at hand,” they said.

This is an interesting point. Is this campaign ultimately misleading and subversive? Marketing faux-inclusivity in exchange for column inches? Realistically, The Army does knock the emotion out of you. Research shows that young people recruited to the military are at higher risk of post-traumatic stress, self-harm and suicide. It’s irresponsible to promise safety, security and inclusivity in an environment that truly cannot always prioritise these things. It’s a double-edged sword and SoundOut data corroborates this. Of the three adverts from the campaign that we tested, What If I Get Emotional in the Army? scored the lowest overall, with a Market Potential of 69%. 

Further to this, our data is reflective of the entire campaign’s polarising nature. Overall, the three adverts: Keeping my Faith, Can I Be Gay in the Army? and What if I Get Emotional in the Army? scored well with our panel, with Keeping my Faith coming out on top achieving a respectable Market Potential of 71% (where 80% is excellent and 60% is average). However, when we drill down into the results from each demographic, they are indicative of the division and debate that has surrounded the adverts. Among The Army’s own target demographic of 16-24-year olds, the Market Potential for each advert soars. Keeping my Faith earns an impressive score of 81% while Can I Be Gay in the Army? and What if I Get Emotional in the Army? achieved 75% And 74% respectively. On the flip side, 25-34 and 35-44-year olds rated the adverts far less favourable, across the board. A similar and consolidated story emerges with our Age Appeal graph, which reinforces just how strongly this campaign appeals to 16-24-year olds. As the aim is to boost recruitment then this is a success. From these results, we can confidently conclude that most of the dissenting voices are emerging from older demographics. 

In stark comparison, the results for the original ‘Be the Best’ army recruitment adverts are the inverse of the new campaign. The old adverts were received most favourably by our oldest demographic. 

The Army’s new ad campaign is contemporary and progressive; with inclusivity at the forefront. The adverts are laser-focused on the millennial generation; yes, perhaps at the cost of alienating the old guard. But the fight for a British Army that reflects modern-day society, rather than one averse to evolution, brings the battle much closer to home. 

You can view the interactive SoundOut results for each advert here: Keeping My Faith

Can I Be Gay in the Army?

What If I Get Emotional in the Army?

Copyright © 2018. Tiffany Amuah

Copyright SoundOut 2019