This Isn't Belonging: Why Army Recruitment is Failing
Last week the Army unveiled the third wave of its ‘belonging’recruitment campaign. It is the brainchild of the marketing company Capita, which according to its website is the “leading provider of technology enabled business services”. However, despite being a ‘leading provider’ so far this campaign has been almost universally panned and last year failed to gain even 10% of the needed recruits. Clearly then this final wave needed to be a master stroke. Reactions however have been mixed with many criticising the new campaign of pandering exclusively to Millennials and Generation Z.
While I both understand and fully support the meaning behind this campaign, its heavy hand ultimately undermined its message. The jarring nature of switching from the old motto of “Be the Best” to “This is Belonging” combined with the advertisements that beat this message over the head gave the impression that, as one Facebook user wrote: “we can’t have the best, so we’ll settle for everyone else”. Meaning that it alienates both traditional candidates for recruitment as well as backhandedly insulting those now being targeted. The fact that Capita was only able to bring in less than 10% of the recruits needed by the Army demonstrates this.
What Capita did not seem to understand is the armed forces are not a political tool to virtue signal with. The armed forces contains an ethos of respect and of equality- namely equality of opportunity. The move to allow women to serve in combat roles demonstrates this well as they now have the same opportunities as their male counterparts but they still have to pass the same training and obtain the same fitness standards as their male counterparts in order to serve. When some MPs suggested reducing the entry standards to the special forces for female candidates it was swiftly rejected for a good reason: Life and death situations require the best, regardless of class, creed or gender. Diversity for the sake of diversity when lives are at stake is ill-thought out, impractical and immoral.
This new wave is also being accused of virtue signaling. While I see why some may come to this conclusion, I disagree to some extent. This new campaign has one fundamental difference: namely that it seeks to turn negatives stereotypes about the modern British youth into positives. Making young people feeling wanted and offering a new perspective s is a far more organic way to do what the “this is Belonging” campaign sought out to do. Moreover, it infuses this new modern message with a classic, universally recognisable an quintessentially British “Your country needs you” poster, utilised heavily in the first world war. The 1.2 million recruits Kitchener was able to enlist voluntarily is still one of the largest entirely volunteer forces in history. By using this motif, it demonstrates a visual message of how the British Army is still the same force it has been for hundreds of years. This shows how the Army still embraces its traditions while adapting to the modern world.
That being said, while a step up from the previous waves of this campaign, It certainly still has its issues. People still find it to be patronising to younger generations and the images have quickly become viral memes. The slogans being edited to read “Any F****r, Your Army Needs You, We’re Desperate’ or jokes such as ‘Swingers, Your Army Needs You and Your Team Spirit’. This is clearly a bad omen for the campaign as it is hardly the reaction that would be expected of a successful recruitment campaign. More controversial however is the revelation that the soldiers used in the campaign where not explicitly asked for their permission. Scot Guardsman Stephen McWhirter has openly complained after having his image appear next to the slogan ‘Snowflakes – the Army needs you and your compassion’. According to news outlets when consulted about the use of his image the context was never mentioned. In particular his name appearing next to the word ‘snowflakes’ – a derogatory term for people who are overly-sensitive most often associated with young people. He has complained about the severe amounts of ridicule he has received and has stated that he plans to resign at the earliest opportunity.
This example seems to set the tone for an unsavoury recruiting campaign- it is ultimately causing soldiers to resign. Hardly the right direction the army needs to go in when it is 5,000 soldiers short of its target. If the army really wants to increase recruitment then maybe its time to think outside of the box. Be it reintroduction of National Service as an alternative to University or Apprenticeships or a radically different recruitment campaign, either way its time to go back to the drawing board.