Here’s a confession: I don’t know quite what to do with the British Army's 2019 recruitment campaign. Which, in a way, is fine. It’s not for me. It’s not supposed to make me do anything. I mean, it never would have been for me (I write as a man who gave up on British Military Fitness after one session because all the shouting was ‘a bit aggressive’).
But this time it’s DEFINITELY not for me. I’m too old. And I’ve checked - there isn’t a ‘oi, you old twat! We don’t think you’re old! We think you’re wise’ execution. So I’m out.
But the ‘Me Me Me Millennials’, the ‘Class Clowns’, the ‘Binge Gamers’, the ‘Phone Zombies’, the ‘Snow Flakes’, and the ‘Selfie Addicts’, well, they are very much IN. At least, the British Army hope they will be, because that’s who their new campaign is squarely aimed at, and, given their last attempt didn’t go too well, they really need to start filling those spots.
After all, someone’s going to need to step in when the gentle bickering over the last tin of corned beef in Aldi turns into a full-blown post-Brexit apocalyptic riot come 30 March.
So. Is it going to work?
Well, here’s the rub. I don’t really know.
If I were ‘the internet’, this would be easy, because ‘the internet’ has decided that the campaign is rubbish. In fact, more than that, ‘the internet’ has decided that the campaign is rubbish and won’t work because it was written by an old man and it doesn’t work because said old man doesn’t understand young people. But that’s not quite where I am.
To get a few things out of the way first:
1. I don’t believe you have to be the target audience to write about the target audience. I know that’s a slightly contentious belief to hold nowadays, but I stand by it. It’s our job in advertising to understand people brilliantly, and then to craft compelling stuff that makes them think, act, or feel differently. The idea that an old man would automatically be shit at writing for young women is as glib and misguided as the idea that a young woman would automatically be good at it. If writing adverts were as easy as being in the target audience, then it really wouldn’t be much of an industry.
2. This campaign isn’t for you, either. I don’t care where you grew up, what your parents did, or how old you are. If you’re reading a piece about an advertising campaign on The Drum, you’re not the target audience. This campaign is aimed at the disenfranchised. The kids who feel the world is out to get them. If you’re working in advertising, you’re alright, and this campaign is aimed elsewhere.
3. Whatever you think of the ads themselves, the strategy is fucking smart. In a world that can’t stop telling you how useless you are, there’s a home for you in the army. No qualms here, I’m standing on a chair, drunkenly applauding that one at the APG Creative Strategy Awards in a couple of years. (Or next year? I don’t know. Whenever they are).
Regardless – add that all up, and that’s why I, unlike the internet, think it might work.
I worked on the RAF account for a long time, and so have some experience of this audience. I've also spent more time than I care to remember talking about how young folk (particularly young blokes) use an insult to say ‘I love you’ while trying to dream up ways to sell them beer.
A brand that understands what those folk are going through is a brand that’s going to go a long way.
And, more than that, a brand that doesn’t stop at understanding what they’re going through, but goes on to offer them a way of making things better, rather than just trying to flog them trainers, or fizzy drinks, or the chance to make watching a game of football more exciting by making it more expensive, is going to go even further.
The world is currently being a dick to these kids, and whatever you may think of the British Army, this campaign is proffering an understanding hand. In doing so, it has created a campaign that’s got everyone talking. It also looks beautiful. I make no apology for applauding that.
One last thought for 'The Industry' that’s already decided that these ads are rubbish because the audience are going to hate them.
Maybe the smart people at Karmarama and, more pertinently, Accenture, thought of that. Maybe they went beyond ‘I’m young, and I hate it’ and found out what the real people who matter actually thought. Maybe they’re not as shit at this as we might all be secretly hoping they are. Eek.
Dan Cullen-Shute is chief executive and founder of Creature of London. He tweets @creature_dan