HUNTSVILLE, Ala. ― Earlier this year, the British Army unveiled a new poster recruiting campaign targeted straight at millennials and Generation Z: Glued to your phone, obsessed with posting selfies, easily offended? You’re what we’re looking for.
The images elicited snickers and groans from salty Americans and Britons alike, but it turns out they were part of an ongoing marketing effort that has been paying dividends for the United Kingdom, according to that country’s director of operations for Army Recruiting and Initial Training Command.
"The applications to join the Army as a regular soldier are on a rising trend, as a consequence of that campaign — much to the dismay, I have to say, of many dissenters out there ― members of the public, media, veterans, who say, ‘This is no way to recruit for the Army,' " Brigadier David Colthup said Tuesday at AUSA’s Global Force Symposium.
Their statistics show that over the previous few years, applications have jumped in the tens of thousands.
“Belonging to something that is bigger than you, but that will accept you for you, was really resonating with the target audience that we’ve been trying to appeal to,” Colthup said.
The idea began in 2016, with the British Army facing a manning shortfall of about 5,000 soldiers and multiple years of missed recruiting goals. Like in the U.S., a dwindling veteran population, a low unemployment rate and a rise in obesity rates were thought to be hamstringing their efforts.
Teamed with a private marketing firm, a plan coalesced around the idea of belonging.
“Actually, soldiers who serve for that sense of belonging, being together, that common purpose is really, really important,” Colthup said.
Every January for the past three years, another phase of the campaign has rolled out. It started with “finding a place" in 2017, Colthup said, followed by “making that theme attainable,” he added, which “was at that time, quite controversial.”
The 2019 effort strings “the last two years together, built upon them, so that because of belonging, someone like me — someone like them — can do something that really matters,” Colthup said.
At the same time, they set out to bust some myths about serving, showing soldiers goofing off during training, socializing in their civilian clothes, practicing their faiths or expressing emotions.
Colthup showed a marketing video to an audience Tuesday, and U.S. Army Recruiting Command’s Maj. Gen. Frank Muth reacted immediately.
“I personally want to include — because you saw that on the UK video, and I thought that was great — if I can advocate, I haven’t seen a commercial that had a soldier in civilian clothes, I think, since like 1979,” Muth said.
Army commercials tend to show a lot about soldier jobs, but almost nothing about the lifestyle that goes along with service, which is a defining part of life in the Army.
“Because we never show soldiers off duty. And we never show soldiers having families,” Muth said. “And I’ll tell you, some of the misperceptions among the Z Generation are, ‘Can we own a dog? Are we allowed to own a car? Do we always live in the barracks? Am I allowed to get married? Can I have children?’ And we don’t necessarily convey that.”
The U.S. Army itself unveiled a new recruiting campaign last fall, with four commercials touting the new Warriors Wanted slogan.
The imagery is combat arms heavy, per Army Chief of Staff Mark Milley’s direction.
“Are you up to the task, are you to the challenge?” Muth said, describing the message. “A lot of recruiters will tell you — out of places like Chicago, Baltimore, New York, Boston — they don’t resonate in the cities.”
But another campaign, focusing more on science, technology, engineering and math is on the way, he added.
It will feature diverse subjects and Army jobs, he said, with the same narrative: An American youth graduating from high school, going to Army training, using their skills in the field, leaving the Army, volunteering in their communities, and finally, moving on to college.
Two commercials are completed and four more are in the planning stages, Muth said, under the “More in Four” slogan.
The idea being that spending four years in the Army offers more experiences and opportunities than another path, and in the end, you can still go to college ― and it’ll be paid for.
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.