OPINION: Mills on ... The Army

I'm sure Lord Kitchener would turn in his grave at the thought that people might join the Army not to fight. But then, I suspect, he wasn't aware of the contemporary military version of Parkinson's Law either, which states that for every soldier in the field, the Army needs ten behind it doing cooking, dentistry, digging latrines, IT and so on. That is how I read the Army's decision to create a recruitment strategy based around nine career sub-brands such as "combat", "logistics", "engineering", "healthcare", etc.

hat particularly intrigues me is "administration and finance".

What sort of people would join the Army to be an accountant? Is it people who want a bit of that macho glamour but restricted to spreadsheets? "Lieutenant Mills, bought ledger patrol, Fifth Armoured Accountants Division ..."

Anyway, as our boys gear up for regime change in Iraq (bound to turbocharge recruitment, sadly - so perhaps they should leave the advertising for now), a new Army campaign coincidentally hits the screens. This is the first work from Publicis since it nicked the account from "sister" shop Saatchi & Saatchi.

The latter justifiably earned the plaudits for a series of campaigns that arguably dragged services recruitment advertising into the 21st century.

The secret was the recognition that there was more to military life than a glamourised version of boot camp and target practice. At the same time, however, it turned an Army career at best into something aspirational, at worst no longer an option of last resort. Judged by what has gone before then, the Publicis work has a lot to live up to.

As with the Saatchis work, the new campaign is underpinned by an interesting strategy. This is rooted in the reality of today's jobs market for school leavers and graduates: employers don't guarantee a job for life, and employees don't expect one; potential employees pick and choose between a huge variety of occupations, not just other branches of the services, so competition is all-encompassing; the modern Army needs a vast range of skills, few of them exclusively militaristic and many hi-tech; Army training can make recruits employable outside; and the cost of higher education means the Army is fishing in a bigger pool than might otherwise have been the case.

In that sense, the strategy as executed by Publicis represents a step-change from the Saatchis era. A second difference is that behind the ads sits an organised, multi-faceted recruitment programme, including a customer magazine and a club, to take youngsters through from initial interest to sign-up. Heavens above, it's that rare beast - a serious, integrated campaign.

As for the ads, there's four 30-second spots, each highlighting a soldier in one of the four sub-brands: combat, engineering, IT and communications, and logistics. Each focuses on a real-life soldier. They include, you won't be surprised to hear, the obligatory ethnic minority and female interest, but I have no argument with that. The Army, like other establishment institutions, should reach out to everyone.

Each of the soldiers talks about their jobs, intercut with either home video material or footage showing them out of uniform. The tone is conversational and friendly, and the look fast-moving and buzzy without being flash or gimmicky.

The out-of-uniform footage is undoubtedly a clever idea. Contrasting Civvy Street with the Army, they allow us to see that, just because you're in the Army, it doesn't mean that you surrender your individuality or your life, the fear of which I suspect could be a turn-off for many potential recruits.

All of this is wrapped up in an endline - "Not your basic training" - that talks to civilians in terms they understand. Time to ditch that old military intelligence oxymoron, I'd say.

Dead cert for a Pencil? I'd put a fiver on an Effectiveness prize.

File under ... S for strategic.

What would the General's wife say? If I was younger I'd join up.


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