It’s been a busy week for the British Army. Failure to hit recruitment targets (again) has resulted in a fresh new ad campaign, and it’s rubbed a few people up the wrong way. Including the young people it was designed to attract, and one of the soldiers it featured. Well done everyone.
The video execution (for TV and cinema) has a touch of humanity and storytelling about it, but it’s the print campaign that has caused the current ruckus. It highlights negative stereotypes thrown at Gen Z and Millennials. That they’re me-me-me snowflakes who are addicted to selfies and spend all their time gaming.
It aims to turn these perceptions on their head. Other (old) people might see you as a snowflake, young person, but we the British Army admire your compassion. Please note that we’re not saying you’re NOT all snowflakes and selfie-loving phone zombies, just that these are personality traits that we can work with whilst training you in the deployment of lethal weapons.
And here’s where potentially interesting insights go bad. By attempting to tackle a widely perceived stereotype, they’ve managed to double down on it and give it far more traction that it merits. Young people deserve better than a government organisation sticking the words “ME ME ME MILLENIALS” and “SNOWFLAKES” above pictures of serving soldiers who risk their lives defending our country – it’s lazy and insulting.
Of course, I’m not saying that self-obsessed young people, sensitive types or class clowns don’t exist, just that they don’t define this generation any more than any other. Read any Jane Austen novel from 200 years ago and you’ll find plenty of each. Taking a highlighter pen to lazy tabloid generalisations seems like a very odd way for the British Army to encourage young people to join their team.
Hidden at the bottom of the news coverage was something else that I found hugely interesting. The Army is about 10% short of its recruiting target, but 47% of applicants voluntarily dropped out of the recruitment process in 2017/2018. That’s almost HALF of all potential soldiers not making it through to the beginning of basic training. Reports suggest that poor website UX, endless form-filling, data going missing and poor customer service are contributing factors to this worryingly leaky funnel, suggesting that the army’s problem isn’t actually recruitment, but a lack of focus on delivering a joined-up customer journey.
I know a bunch of talented Gen Z strategy, tech and creative experts who’d be brilliant at fixing that – here, have a selfie…