We still sell the dream of brand fame through emotional advertising, we all (rightly) bow down to the genius of Les Binet and Peter Field, and we can now prove that it works. But we also know that it’s getting harder and harder to pull off.
People are rarely gathered around the same space any more, watching the same thing, waiting for advertisers to puncture the moment with an idea that makes them laugh or cry. We all realised a while ago that we can’t rely on paid media alone and, besides, clients rarely have the sort of budgets any more that allow us to shout at people long enough until they eventually cave in and buy whatever we’re selling.
The answer is that we need to build creative campaigns that can infiltrate these earned spaces (earning our role in culture), while at the same time targeting messages in paid and dominating owned. So far, so five years ago. But the difference is that we now actually have the capabilities to do it. To build a campaign like the Army's "This is belonging" required editorial specialists working next to data analysts, strategists and creatives. Not just saying it in the creds, but really working together.
If we don’t have the budgets any more to be near the conversation, we have to be the conversation. This is how we’ve approached driving Army recruitment, with some learnings along the way:
1 It’s not just about the insight, it’s also about how you distribute it
The overall message that the Army is able to see young people’s potential and offer them a career with meaning is a genuine and enduring truth.
Understanding how the "belonging" insight can be activated to these audiences required a different approach to research. We used ethnography and spent a great deal of time with soldiers to get there. But we also used a large data team to build and deliver the individual content and influencer plan.
2 It’s not just provocation, it’s what you do with it
From the first 24 hours of the campaign going live, the work became hotly debated on TV, radio, newspapers and social media. Every channel in the UK, but also from North America to Australia. The two-week poster burst crucially created multiple opportunities for deeper conversations that the Army could participate in. Not just media opportunities, but through paid and owned channels and, most importantly, through influencer channels. We needed the PR members of the team to help try and plot the narrative arc of the campaign.
3 It’s not just the long term, it’s the short term too
Understaffing in the Army is an urgent and immediate problem to solve. Longer-term emotional connections won’t cut it alone. Thankfully, we’ve already seen the amount of applications double, with 9,700 applying in the first three weeks of January. This was a five-year high for Army recruitment, with more people applying on the day posters went up than on any other day over the past 12 months.
To be the conversation requires you to put your head firmly above the parapet. This takes bravery. But, ultimately, it’s campaigns like these that will enter culture and succeed.
This isn’t something you can do without the trust and partnership of the client. It takes time to build the credentials for braver and provocative thinking. It is no surprise that this year’s Army campaign, our most talked-about yet in the "This is belonging" series, is now in its third year.
In addition, knowing your client over a matter of years, not months, means that you know how to support them as they embark on an internal sell-in journey through all the stakeholders of their organisation. This process is crucial if you are to create the internal environment where being brave is positive and not seen as a risk.
To be part of an industry where, as Dave Trott says, 89% of ads are ignored, we need to build new types of campaigns. We’ve always had creative people ready to make brave decisions; it’s now about how and who we partner them with, along with a brilliant new generation of brave clients.
James Denton-Clark is managing director of Karmarama