Jeremy Lee
Jeremy Lee
A view from Jeremy Lee

Karmarama's Army work errs on caution despite winning awards

Some good news for one agency that once used to pride itself on its refusal to enter awards scheme.

After performing the sort of reverse ferret that everyone is wondering whether Publicis Groupe will also do, Karmarama – for it is they – has just won Campaign of The Year at the Recruitment Marketing Awards for its campaign for the British Army.

The awards, we are told, "recognise excellence and professionalism in recruitment marketing and talent management." And more interestingly, the gong perhaps suggests that Karmarama’s newish owner, the much maligned "management consultants" Accenture Interactive, puts more value on being publicly recognised for the quality of its creative work than Saatchi & Saatchi or Leo Burnett does.

Karmarama won the Army recruitment brief in October 2015 from J Walter Thompson, which had produced some strong enough work. The move seems to have partly been a result of the strength of the relationship between Karamarama’s chief creative officer Nik Studzinski, who had created award-winning work for the Army while at Saatchi & Saatchi in the 1990s, and the Army’s top marketing brass. That, and the fact that recruiting soldiers to the Army in the post-Iraq, post-Afghanistan world where its numbers were being trimmed back was not as easy as JWT and Capita, the outsourcing company that had been handed the task of maintaining troop numbers, had perhaps thought.

Working on military campaigns is a tough brief but at least an interesting one. They can be sensitive (in some quarters) but are a political necessity. Agencies must be careful to show how serving offers excitement, travel, camaraderie and sense of achievement and fulfilment but without the blood-soaked realities of the horror of war.

Karmarama has certainly erred on the side of caution award-winning campaigns – "A better you" and "This is belonging". The ads showed how joining the Army could help with personal self-improvement and provide an environment where lasting bonds of friendship are made.

The latter campaign was last week in the headlines for rather different reasons. An exposé by the pressure group Child Soldiers, which is better known for campaigning against the use of children for military purpose in places such as the Congo, "revealed" that the campaign was targeting young people from working-class backgrounds. The media schedule for this national campaign was upweighted to areas such as Cardiff, Doncaster and Sheffield, where C2DEs index more highly.

Somehow this revelation was picked up by some elements of the left-wing press. Advertising using targeting? Surely not! And imagine the outcry if the Army was seen to be spending money recruiting in areas where the chance of hiring anyone was minuscule. 

Moreover, given that the Army is below strength by more than 4,000 soldiers – more than 5% of its target – and that overall numbers continue to fall, you could argue that better targeting – not less – is in order for its campaigns to really deserve a Recruitment Marketing Awards gong.