British Army hopes criticism around campaign will help attract more diverse recruits

‘This is Belonging 2018’ campaign is accused of being ‘soft’ but Capita argue that younger recruits will be encouraged.

The British Army says that criticism around its latest campaign will “help challenges perceptions” of the Army and encourage more diverse recruits.

The ‘This is Belonging 2018′ campaign, created by Karmarama, shows a series of short films that address questions of faith and mental health. The videos are meant to attract potential soldiers from a broader range of backgrounds.

“The fact that you’ve seen the level of reaction to it is showing that it’s beginning to challenge perceptions in a way that campaigns like this have never done before,” Gordon Lee, marketing director at the British Army’s recruitment agency Capita, tells Marketing Week.

He adds: “I think it helps that people are talking about it. We are trying to attract young people into the Army who have a different perception of diversity compared to other parts of our community and those who’ve served before.”

The adverts, which launched last weekend, include videos that answer questions such as ‘Can I be gay in the Army?’ and highlight issues including ‘keeping my faith’ which features a Muslim soldier praying. However, they have received criticisms from top soldiers for being too ‘soft’, with Colonel Richard Kemp telling the BBC that he didn’t think people signing up are “worrying about if they are going to be listened to or if there’s an emotional issue”.

READ MORE: British Army puts personalisation ‘front and centre’ in recruitment drive

“We were prepared for people to have strong opinions about the campaign because we’re trying to shift perceptions.” says Colonel Simon Stockley, assistant director of Army recruiting, speaking to Marketing Week.

Despite the criticism there is extensive research to show that the campaign will increase recruitment. Lee explains: “We do long-term brand tracking which actually tracks interest and awareness right through to which channels are the most effective for our audiences.”

This is backed up by longer term studies on segmentation, which are able to pick out what are perceived as the biggest barriers to people joining. And so while the general targeting strategy has remained consistent for many years, the Army is looking to change the message they are communicating.

“What we’ve got now is a more direct message to those audiences with the specific message about how [joining the Army] is much more attainable. It’s about addressing their concerns personally,” Lee says.

However, one noticeable change is the level of dependency on digital channels including less traditional platforms. Lee says: “Digital channels are becoming a bigger part of the schedule and we’re working with influencers like UNILAD and people like that who are gaining really traction for us but wouldn’t have been on our radar a few years ago.”

The fact that you’ve seen the level of reaction to it is showing that its beginning to challenge perceptions in a way that campaigns like this have never done before.

Gordon Lee, Capita

The Army’s recruitment shortage has been highly publicised. According to figures from the Ministry of Defence in the year up to April 2017, 12,950 recruits joined the regular armed forces, but 14,970 service personnel left in the same period. This decline in recruitment is partly due to less young white men signing up which is one reason the new campaign is trying to encourage diversity.

“Our traditional cohort would have been white, male, Caucasian 16- to 25-year-olds, and there are not as many of those around as there once were. It is entirely appropriate for us therefore to try and reach out to a much broader base to get the talent we need in order to sustain that combat effectiveness,” General Nick Carter, the chief of the general staff, told BBC Radio 4.

All the soldiers featured in the campaign are serving, which was crucial in order for the adverts to remain authentic. “None of them have a drama background and all were plucked out of the barracks on a wet Thursday afternoon….We couldn’t have asked people to believe that we were authentic if we were using actors and frankly the soldiers did it better than any actors could have,” Stockley says.

It is too early to see whether the campaign has been successful but Capita measures changes on a quarterly basis and will be reviewing the diversity of applications in six months.

Lee says: “The campaign and the way it turned out is exactly the way we envisaged it. It’s got a real cut-through potential to it which is what we like about it.

“I don’t think there are many who can say they are as explicit about their diversity policy and as welcoming as the Army.”