Credit: Karmarama/British Army

‘Millennials’ dodge a bullet from misguided ad campaign

Credit: Karmarama/British Army

Kristy Anne Leeds

The recent army recruitment posters targeting millennials reveals an attitude clearly out of touch with our generation

“Your country needs you.” The infamous eyes of Lord Kitchener that follow you around the room, as his finger points squarely at your face. Probably, the most recognised army recruitment poster ever. No surprise then, that when the modern British army is failing to recruit anywhere near the required number of troops, they return to the old faithful. But this time there’s a change of tack: instead of targeting everyone, this time they are targeting us, the “me me me millennials.”

Millennials – defined by popular culture as people reaching young adulthood in the 21st century. The term is commonly disliked among our age group – it’s right up there with middle aged Twitter vocabulary, not to mention a constant favourite of Piers Morgan’s personal Twitter account. Millennials this, millennials that – it’s never a positive descriptor, usually coming along the lines of laziness, sensitivity or ignorance to “the real world”. It’s the idea that, having grown up in a digital age, everyone at this age is a carbon copy. A weird idea then for the army, who represent all the citizens of a state, to decide that the best way to recruit your target audience is to insult them first.

Let me explain why this whole idea, in my opinion, is a total flop. Firstly, the reference to Lord Kitchener. The strong, assertive message that  your country needs you. Well does it? Are we in a world war? Will we get shot for conscientiously objecting? No. This message, in the modern day, now reeks of a kind of desperation. The country needs us, but do we really need them? A pessimistic argument could be, what does the country do for us anyway? Increasingly, people of the recruitment target age are questioning this. This may be a reason why some of the target audience were turned off by this directness and urgency. Also, as reported in papers like the New York Times, many people of the millennial demographic are less patriotic and, thanks to the spread of information from the rise of social media, hold their country to account when it is in the wrong, so it could be inferred that they are less likely to volunteer to represent the country in this way.

Secondly, if resurrecting “millennial” Kitchener was not weird enough, it gets a lot weirder. The insults, “phone zombie”, “selfie addicts” and worse, “snowflakes”, all added to the list of oddly out of touch terms, used to alienate and stereotype a certain age group. It makes you wonder if the army recruiters had ever met anyone of this age in real life? It appears as if they have only spied on them via a social media lens, because the posters scream the middle-aged attitude of “trying to get down with the kids”. The slight redemption of this campaign, from the army’s perspective at least, is the section where they address the insults, and use them as an example of how YOU can positively help the army with this stereotypical quality. I admire the idea, but it was executed poorly. For example, the “phone zombie, your country needs you and your focus”. When people scroll through their phone, I would highly doubt that this activity is given an intense amount of focus. Just because we are adults in a digitalised world, does not mean doing this is any different from how any other age group would do so. Hence, it sounds like they are clutching at straws, to try and sound relatable; whilst trying to have an inside joke with the “proper” adults.

It is obvious that the army’s intention was not to alienate the target recruitment audience. They do need us to an extent. The reality is, they are a bit desperate. The army has suffered cuts as all public services have and the recruitment drive for the army has done poorly, falling short of the target 30% for 6 years in succession. Something clearly is not working, and it was unlikely that one ad campaign, no matter to what extent people agreed with it, or not, will change people’s minds.

Perhaps the army should look deeper into why people are not lining up to enlist. Although being part of the army may have valid benefits, it has nevertheless become synonymous with poor post-career aftercare for soldiers and has a harsh-macho image to upkeep. Also, it should be reminded that it’s only since November 2017 that women can serve on the front line.

Work needs to be done. The army need to talk to young people, ask them why they would not join and what they perceive a job in the army to be. They should dismantle the stereotypes that exist about working in the army first; rather than perpetuating the stereotypes of their future workforce. However, it is safe to say a campaign like this is not the best way to inspire the soldiers of tomorrow, and if they carry on like this, there might not be any. However, it has at least got people talking about the army – maybe this was the reaction the recruiters wanted all along? Only time will tell.



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