Those British Army ‘Snowflake’ ads have encouraged the most new recruits in years

In January, 16,000 people applied to join the army following its 'Snowflake' poster campaign / MoD

Despite launching in a flurry of controversy, The British Army’s 2019 recruitment campaign, which targets ‘snowflakes’, ‘selfie addicts’ and ‘me, me, me millennials’, is helping drive the biggest recruitment numbers in years.

The first quarter of 2019 is on track to be the busiest three-month period since recruitment outsourcing giant Capita took over the British Amy contract seven years ago. According to its own figures, over 1000 more recruits will have signed up to apply versus the same quarter last year by the end of this month.

In January, 16,000 people applied to join the army. Website visits for the month were 78% up with 1.5 million people taking a look online – a two-fold increase on January 2018.

“We’ve had a lot of backlash from certain audiences, but on the day those posters went live we had the highest number of registrations that there had been in the past 12 months,” Matthew Waksman, planning director at Karmarama revealed to The Drum.

He added: “We could go on and on about that. However, at the very basic level, what we put across is that the army is a very progressive organisation where someone like you will fit in if that’s the career that you want.

“It’s not rocket science that in saying that to a person who is considering a huge decision about their life and career, you’re going to be giving them a message they want to hear. But, in the age of outrage that we’re living in, making a simple statement like that is enough to cause a huge backlash.”

Focused on how the army was looking “beyond stereotypes” in its search for the next generation of forces, the ‘Your Army Needs You’ campaign courted a backlash over its creative execution when it first launched.

Good Morning Britain presenter Piers Morgan described Karmarama’s work for the army as an “assault on modern masculinity”. Elsewhere, one of the soldiers who appeared on the ‘Your Army Needs You’ posters claimed he hadn’t been briefed on the “tone and style” of the ads and threatened to quit.

The 2019 push was also derided by some on Twitter, but it drew equal praise from creatives like Creature’s Dan Cullen-Shute, who predicted it to be a success.

'Ready for the backlash'

‘Your Army Needs You’ forms part of Karmarama’s bigger ‘This is Belonging’ series for the Ministry of Defence, which while widely lauded for tackling issues that have deterred potential recruits in the past (like sexuality, what it means to be a man in the army today and religion), has drawn criticism from more conservative quarters.

Speaking at a panel on toxic masculinity in The Drum Arms in London on Wednesday (20 March) Waksman detailed how the army was “ready for the backlash” when the drive first launched.

“It’s been a Stonewall top employer for ages, it’s got a less than 1% pay gap, it’s been supporting soldiers through transition for a long time, and so the army was ready to talk about what it means to be a progressive organisation,” he explained.

He noted that when it comes to campaigns pinned on social purpose it’s not just a case of brands or organisations getting their “own house in order” before they wade in.

“It also means that when you get the call to go and sit on the [daytime TV] sofas to defend your campaign, someone from the army can actually do that in a way that’s believable. If they can’t then that’s when it all starts to fall apart.”

Underpinned by a series of posters designed in the style of Lord Kitchener's famous WWI illustrations along with digital, print and TV iterations, the push seeks to evoke the stereotypes so often associated with millennials and subvert them.

It suggests that personality traits which are usually perceived as flaws in young people are actually useful to the army (like the 'compassion' of 'snowflakes' or the 'stamina' of gamers’). The campaign was targeted towards 16 to 25-year-olds, based on the insight that 74% of people in that age bracket are "looking for a job with purpose".

Capita was awarded the £495m contract for army recruitment in 2012 but the army has not recruited the number of soldiers it requires in any year since the contract began, according to a report from The Guardian.

The Commons defence committee was told last October that the army had 77,000 fully trained troops compared with a target of 82,500, a stat which Capita blamed on the length of the application process.

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