Almost exactly a year ago, the British Army signalled a revolution
within its marketing ranks as it ditched ads filled with uniformed
soldiers for scenes of young recruits putting their skills to use when
bedroom-hopping or fixing council estate goalposts.
The switch appeared to mark recognition among the services of the
increasingly mobile jobs market swirling around them. They would have to
compete for recruits on the same terms as private businesses - by
offering career-enhancing skills and qualifications rather than a
traditional job for life.
All the same, many at the time considered the change a risky
The Conservative Party roared that by tempting recruits in this way, the
army risked filling its ranks with those who had joined for ulterior
motives - and had no real stomach for the dangerous task of
"We're certainly not for pulling the wool over people's eyes like we did
with Frank," responds Major Gavin Grant, the officer responsible for
marketing communications, who has painful memories of decade-old ads
featuring an arrow pointing to a jet-setting squaddie. "We got totally
the wrong kind of applicants," he added.
If the first phase of the army's new marketing identity produced some
heated disagreement, then the follow-up campaign can be expected to
trigger a greater clash of political wills. This week, Saatchi &
Saatchi's civvy-centred approach to army marketing is extended to
officer recruitment, the most conservative territory of all.
Saatchi's new cinema ad features a cast of men and women engaged in
everyday situations requiring inspirational leadership - and failing to
come up with the goods. To a mournful musical backdrop we see coaches
and chief executives trying and failing to inspire their charges. These
tales are followed by the army recruitment logo and the endline: "People
aren't easily led."
Saatchis has maintained the traditional distinction between the
recruitment of officers and that of their men.
The new ad is immediately more downbeat than last year's offerings. This
is in tune with past officer work, such as "homecoming", which showed
the tragic consequences of one bad decision. At the same time, the
transferable skills argument makes even more sense with officers.
The army wants to expand its pool of recruits and must compete with
merchant banks and chartered accountants for the best university
"It's a natural aim for the campaign to try and explode some of the
myths that still exist about officers," Grant says. "A lot of people
would see nice, clever ads in the past but it would pass them by because
it wasn't on their career radar."
But can the transferable skills argument work for army recruitment when
current events are focusing our attention on the job's dangers? The army
has not shied away from launching the ads now. Its argument is that
conflict makes the point that the army is a serious business better than
"It's always the case that people need to think about the implications
of what they're doing," Grant says.
"The commitment we expect people to make needs to be thought through by
both us and them."