A Marketing Misfire: The British Army’s bizarre new recruitment campaign which calls on the ‘Snowflake Generation’ and ‘Selfie Addicts’

The British Army have launched a new recruitment campaign, which seeks to appeal to young people, in an effort to battle a slump in recruitment. The campaign, created by Karmarama, aims to turn stereotypes about the generation on their head, with six posters in the style of the famous Lord Kitchener “Your army needs you” First World War recruitment campaign. They target ‘binge gamers, phone zombies, snowflakes, selfie addicts, class clowns and me me me millennials’, while the TV adverts focus on how the same personality types could prove beneficial in the army.

The campaign, which cost £1.5m, has been met with much ridicule and criticism online by social media users. A number of critics on Twitter pointed out that the campaign made use of stereotypes that may be held by older people, but are probably not recognised by the target audience itself.

One user wrote ‘Not sure why the British Army thinks insulting young people is a good recruitment tactic. What an awful campaign.’

Another person chimed in saying that the campaign was ‘misguided’ and that ‘What they’ll actually achieve with this is turning everyone off the very people they want to sign up.’

The Ministry of Defence stated that the recruitment campaign attempts to exhibit “how the army sees beyond stereotypes to spot young people’s potential”. He further commented that they recognise 72% per cent of young people describe themselves as ambitious yet feel undervalued and want a job with real purpose, which they hope to give them in the army. Indeed, in the past they have created recruitment campaigns with that very same angle, such as the 2016 ‘a better you’ campaign, with great success, but on this occasion, despite their good intention, it appears they have seriously missed the mark.

The army is struggling to maintain recruitment levels; recruitment rates have fallen since last year, with 83,500 soldiers needed and only 79,640 currently serving.

It has been suggested low recruitment rates are not due to poor engagement, but maybe perhaps because the Millennial generation do not identify with the army and its ethos.

The army said the TV adverts tell the stories of individuals whose perceived weaknesses are seen as strengths by the army.

Major General Paul Nanson, head of army recruiting, said: “The army sees people differently and we are proud to look beyond the stereotypes and spot the potential in young people, from compassion to self-belief.’ He also commented that the army understands ‘their need for a bigger sense of purpose in a job where they can do something meaningful.”

However, in attempting to convey this message, particularly in the poster adverts, which so unequivocally brands younger people with negative character traits, they appear to have alienated their target audience. The posters seem to be saying “Snowflakes, you are lazy, self-obsessed, sensitive and immersed in consumer technology – but if you come join the army we can change all that”. The tone doesn’t exactly feel uplifting does it? Moreover, these “transferrable skills” seem a little off: how can someone’s enthusiasm for selfies be an asset to the army? They claim that taking lots of selfies exhibits someone’s self-confidence, which seems ill-judged when we are constantly told in the media how this is in fact a condition of low self-confidence, poor mental health and the need for personal gratification online.

Many soldiers in the army are not happy with the campaign and have taken to making parodies in their discontent.

Negative reverberations from the campaign came to a head when The Sun reported that guardsman Stephen McWhirter, 28, the soldier whose face is pictured beneath the word ‘SNOWFLAKE’ in one of the posters, has vowed to quit the Army.

He claims he first learned about featuring on the poster when his phone was flooded with mocking messages from his friends. The soldier criticised the poster on Facebook along with other troops upset with the campaign.

One person wrote: “Imagine the army taking a photo of you and writing “snow flake” in massive bold letters above your head. I’d be signed straight off.”

Guardsman McWhirter replied: “Don’t f****** worry, mate, I am.”

He then said he would formally resign at soon as possible.

Another soldier wrote: “Chances are he was told to sign a form allowing them to use his image.

“That being said, he still has grounds for complaint as they have ended his career by corporate bullying and harassment. Potentially even affecting his future employment.”

McWhirter replied: “correct.”

Insiders confirmed the soldier was “repeatedly” told about the poster and confirmed he was happy to take part, before doing a spectacular U-turn when the poster got a bad reaction with friends.

Some are claiming that the furore, despite its negativity, is good publicity for the cause.

When a campaign is divisive, the philosophy that says ‘there is no such thing as bad PR’ can sometimes reign true, as long as you stand to gain more customers or sign ups from the group of people that like the campaign. However, in this case, the very people they want to inspire appear to be largely synonymous in disliking the campaign, so this seems unlikely.

Amnesty UK

To offer a point of comparison, in 2017 Amnesty UK took on a very similar angle with their ‘Not powerless’ campaign, in which the term ‘snowflake generation’ is reappropriated by the campaign to incite change. The short animation was released in response to Theresa May’s vow to change human rights laws in order to counter terrorism.

Watch the short campaign video here.

The film begins with a recording of Piers Morgan saying “We are in such a snowflake generation now, everybody has to wine and wail. Just get on with it.”

The film then asks its viewers:

“Hey Snowflake, you upset your Instagram post only got 5 likes?”

“You offended no one takes your gluten intolerance seriously?”

“Did only your mum share your online petition?”

 

“Are you OFFENDED that 82% of countries of torture their own citizens”

“Are you OFFENDED by children drowning?”

“Are you OFFENDED that hundreds of gay men can be abducted and killed?’

“Well sometimes … YOU SHOULD BE OFFENDED, and we’re offended too. You still have the power to change things. You are not powerless.”

 

The film goes on to exhibit how creating noise and using your voice to speak out against things can have a profound effect on bringing about change. Amnesty UK have taken this idea that Millennials and Snowflakes whine about unimportant things and turned it on its head to instead commend them for speaking out and challenging ideas, and encouraging them to harness their passion and use it for good.

Amnesty UK were essentially coming from the same place as the British Army, but the execution was far more polished and they have clearly done their research when thinking about how best to connect with the people they are talking to. This is how you successfully take a negative stereotype and turn it into something empowering to get your audience onside and inspire them to do something. The British Army should take note.

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