For those that haven’t seen the British Army's 'Your Army Needs You' campaign, take a look at the posters:
Or the TV adverts:
It probably won’t surprise you to learn that the campaign has caused a bit of a stink on social media.
I can see what the intention was, I think. The idea is that a perceived weakness might be something that is in fact useful for a career in the army, an inclusive organisation. However, the mixed reaction suggests that the creative team behind this campaign have missed the mark on this occasion.
It’s a bit of a stretch to suggest that an addiction to video games means that you are a driven individual, or that spending a lot of time on your phone means you have strong focus. In fact, some might say the opposite is true. Previous armed forces campaigns have delivered a sense that the recruit would be developed and trained, but that is missing here.
Also, pushing negative labels onto your target audience goes beyond a high-risk marketing strategy and into, well, silliness. Is anybody going to appreciate being called a ‘snowflake’ or a ‘me me me millenial?’ The Drum reports that the campaign is designed to show ‘how the army sees "beyond stereotypes" to spot young people's potential.’ This intention is clearer perhaps in the TV ads than the poster, but it’s undoubtedly clumsy to use negative labels and then say you’re looking beyond stereotypes.
So, it’s easy to get kicks out of a good old marketing mis-step, but what can marketers learn from this?
People are all too happy to leap on anyone that appears out of touch or insensitive. Social media has brought with it an increase public shaming, both of individuals and organisations. Creatives need to exercise caution when coming up with concepts and think about how their ideas might be construed by different people. Labelling or any kind of negative stereotyping is best avoided.
This campaign was based on the insight that 74% of people in the 16-25 age bracket are “looking for a job with purpose”. A bit woolly if you ask me, after all, who isn't? It wasn’t a bad decision to base the campaign on insight, though. Rather, it’s the direct address and type casting of young people that’s the problem, leading to its dismissal as “patronising” and “embarrassing” on Twitter.
Joining the armed forces is a serious business. Why then, choose words like ‘phone zombies’ and ‘selfie addicts’? There is an odd contrast here between the seriousness of the army and these attempts at playful language.
This depends on what you're selling, of course. If you're trying to sell harmless toys to young children, it makes sense that they should be in the advert. But in this case we're talking about signing up to the army, and the depictions of the people in the videos are a little too on the nose. Whilst it doesn’t take a genius to realise that the armed forces recruit a lot of young people in low paying jobs who might feel like they have no prospects, this campaign really slams it home. And when what they’re signing up for is potentially dangerous, it can't make anyone feel good to see them targeted like this.