The British Army knew its new marketing campaign, which launched in January, would provoke a reaction.
The campaign launched with a series of outdoor posters targeting ‘me me me millennials’, ‘class clowns’, ‘snowflakes’ and ‘phone zombies’. That aspect of the campaign accounted for just 10% of media spend in January but was meant to “provoke a discussion” and get people to take notice of the campaign.
“We were prepared [for the reaction],” explains Nick Terry, marketing director at Capita, the firm responsible for British Army recruitment, adding: “All of that outdoor activity… provoked that discussion and got people to sit up and take notice of the campaign to come – TV, radio, video-on-demand, digital channels, etc – where we are really trying to get these messages to the target audience in a very honest, authentic and engaging way.
“Whatever we do seems to get a reaction because we are going out with some bold, confident messages into the market.”
Having a campaign that gets cut-through is increasingly important for marketers keen to ensure their ads aren’t just wallpaper that consumers can ignore. Working with its creative agency Karmarama, the army has worked on campaigns over the past three years that have shifted the typical armed forces comms strategy from of being focused on “guns and tanks” to one that looks more at the human experience of being in the army.
That started in 2017 with the launch of the ‘This is belonging’ campaign with creative that showed the comradery developed between soldiers. Last year, the creative idea shifted to dispelling some of the stereotypes around being in the army with a focus on women and people of different ethnicities and sexual orientation.
In 2019, it looked to challenge perceived weaknesses by highlighting how the army could use people with the ‘compassion’ of snowflakes, ‘stamina’ of gamers and ‘confidence’ of selfie addicts. It might have had its detractors and caused some controversy but Terry says it has been successful in leading a reappraisal of what an army career looks like.
Shifting perceptions of an army career
While the British Army has seen a sustained uplift in website visits and applications since the campaign platform launched two years, it has also seen a shift in perceptions. Terry claims that interest in wanting to join the army among its target audience is at its highest point in the last four years; among parents who have sons or daughters looking to join, levels of encouragement are up 60% since 2017.
“When we launched in 2017, what we saw was an immediate uplift in applications and that has been sustained year on year,” explains Terry. “It is something that has been building steadily but not just from a numbers and applications point of view. What we’ve seen as a direct result of this strategy is the shift in perceptions and attitudes of people reappraising the Army generally.
“Not only are we delivering the numbers, we are creating positive associations around the brand as an employer – a diverse and inclusive employer – that more people are interested in and considering for the first time.”
The campaign has also piqued the interest of armed forces in other countries. Terry says the British Army is in talks with the US Army about the approach and how it might help them better appeal to the people they are trying to recruit.
“[The US Army] is finding some of that traditional, expected message and imagery for how they recruit isn’t necessarily working for all their different target audiences. They’re really interested in what we’ve done and whether they too should adopt a more human approach to showing what army life is like up front rather than just talking about combat and having guns and tanks in all their TV ads,” he adds.
Not only are we delivering the numbers, we are creating positive associations around the brand as an employer.
Nick Terry, Capita
Despite the success, there are still concerns about some of the tactics used by the British Army to recruit. Campaigners have accused the Army of deliberately targeting young people when they are experiencing the ‘January blues’, while a group of MPs have called the army “naïve” for signing up to an “abysmal” outsourcing deal with Capita that is yet to reach its recruitment targets and isn’t expected to do so until 2022.
Terry admits it has taken some time to get the recruitment process right but that Capita and the Army have now addressed issues such as giving candidates the right support at the right time and speeding up the process. He points to changes in when candidates get support from army ambassadors, more help with areas such as fitness and that one candidate recently went through the process from application to job offer in just 22 days.
The army also saw more than 1,000 more soldiers start basic training in the first three months of this year compared to 2018, a sign that the uptick in applications is also leading to an increase in soldier numbers.
“Both Capita and the Army have been working tirelessly over the last 12 months at least in terms of how we bring this overall recruiting effort to deliver the numbers needed to fulfil the Army’s requirements on its operations around the world,” he says. “All that effort has been in making sure candidates are nurtured through the process in the right way, reducing the time it takes on average.
“We’re now starting to see some really positive signs in terms of conversion from those that are applying to start basic training.”
Driving marketing effectiveness
Making the marketing as effective as possible is also key. The Army uses econometrics every six months to determine which channels are working best, what effect they are driving and the cost per application, and then “in-flight” optimisation to optimise performance.
While this is a “moving picture”, over the past six months that has resulted in the Army spending less on TV advertising and more on radio, digital and video-on-demand, although TV remains key to driving applications and longer-term brand impact.
“We are very conscious we are spending taxpayer money so we have to invest at a level that is right. We don’t want to under-invest because then we won’t hit our recruitment targets but equally we don’t want to over-invest because then we are being inefficient in how we spend that money,” says Terry.
“It’s something we have to monitor and evaluate continuously to make sure we’ve got that optimal mix.”