Adwatch: Royal Navy sells reality to the Love Island audience

Josh Bullmore, chief strategy officer at Leo Burnett, reviews the Royal Navy's 'Michael's story' by WCRS.

This month’s Adwatch contenders ran during another summer of Love Island. The show’s gym-honed twentysomething stars are in line for an estimated £1m+ in earnings from sponsorships and appearances.

So it’s not surprising there were 85,000 applicants this year. Double that for Oxford and Cambridge combined.

It’s a beguiling fantasy – a sure-fire sunkissed fast-track to success. But reality TV and reality are of course poles apart.

Most young people watching the show are now stuck living at home for longer, facing an increasingly gig-driven jobs market that promises little fulfilment.

And into this arena strides the new Royal Navy recruitment ad. It charts the personal journey of Michael, born in Blyth but Made in the Royal Navy.

The "let’s have a look back at your journey" film is a staple of reality TV. And Michael’s shares something of their narrative arc, from tough beginnings to proud homecoming.

This however is a journey and a transformation of substance not style. The Royal Navy has been the making of Michael’s character.

It is the most recent in a series and for me the most successful. There’s a more dramatic shift from before to after, thanks to the depiction of a life in Blyth that looks pretty bleak. That’s actually quite brave. It risks playing to the perception of the forces as a job of last resort.

But the reward is being this month’s top of the pops for likability, among the broad audience sampled here.

This breadth of appeal matters. Moving the many could be seen as wasteful when the Army’s recruitment has won awards for increasingly data-driven direct work.

But this ad needs to do more than just motivate potential recruits. It needs to prime the Navy’s best advocates – those already serving.

And to recruit the family and friends who encourage people to jump through the metaphorical and literal hoops of the application process.

The Royal Navy may not be able to dangle an easy million. But it makes an enticing promise here: the personal growth that money can’t buy.

Adwatch research is conducted via an internet omnibus survey among 1000 UK adults, aged 16-64, through Research Express, part of Kantar TNS, one of the world’s leading data, insight and consulting agencies. Period covers 4 June to 1 July. Data supplied by Ebiquity. 

Josh Bullmore is chief strategy officer at Leo Burnett