In its latest recruitment campaign for the British Army, creative agency Karmarama has drawn upon both historic and very (overly?) contemporary references in a series of posters, TV, and radio ads titled, “Your Army Needs You.” Based on Alfred Leete’s 1914 recruitment poster, “Lord Kitchener Wants You,” (which inspired the 1917 Uncle Sam “I Want You” posters), the campaign targets young people who feel “undervalued in a cycle of unrewarding jobs… [positioning] the Army as an opportunity to belong to a purposeful team where recruits can do something that matters,” according to a press release from Karmarama.
Each poster and TV spot is based on a stereotype, from “Binge Gamers” to “Me Me Me Millennials,” “Selfie Addicts,” and “Snowflakes,” all qualities the British Army sees as positive attributes in its future recruits, and proof “that the Army sees this generation differently.” But who among us enjoys being reduced to a stereotype, and then sold to—let alone asked to sign our lives over in the name of public service?
Visually, the poster series for “Your Army Needs You” tackles this by nodding to Lord Kitchener and Uncle Sam, as well as contemporary social references and portraiture; but it doesn’t quite strike the right balance between old and new, or between levity and gravity. In adopting this visual language, it places itself as a historical throwback, and therefore as a seemingly unthreatening aesthetic, which belies the complexity of roles within the armed forces. And the TV spots have a lightness more befitting a soap opera or a gym advert.
In the UK, Millennials and Generation Z who have been hit by the recession, a steady increase in university fees, and a steady decline of viable alternatives or grants, have also been left out of many life-altering decisions (Hi, Brexit). The use of derisive terms like “Snowflake” and “Me Me Me Millennials” just adds insult to injury, and feels particularly uncomfortable because they’re still actively used—and never in complementary ways. Maybe I’m being a Snowflake, and this is a case of “political correctness gone mad,” but it’s my feeling that in order for such terminology to change shape, the people using it need to have ownership of it. We’re a long way off from that.
Since its release in January, the campaign has already been on the receiving end of no small amount of criticism, and has even caused a Scots Guardsman featured in one of the posters to vow to quit. It’s also been lauded as an example of “fucking smart strategy.” On Twitter, it’s been both applauded and reviled, with comments like “which 47-year-old man came up with these,” and “Not sure why the British Army thinks insulting young people is a good recruitment tactic;” as well as praise for being a “gutsy campaign” that successfully “rebrands stereotypes” in an appealing way. “It’s a pretty smart campaign. You can make a soldier out of all sorts of people.”
Ironically, Karmarama’s earlier campaigns for the British Army were criticized for being too politically correct. These campaigns attempted to appeal to a broader base, a diversity of genders, sexualities, ethnicities, and faiths that many retired servicemen deemed “of secondary importance” to the Army’s culture. It was also described as “a positive step” in the Army’s consideration of inclusivity and emotional health by a peace and security campaigner at Medact, a non-profit health organization.
While each campaign is shifting in tone, they’re still not quite hitting the mark. Perhaps it’s simply a case of not being able to please everyone. That’s a fair enough case to make most of the time. After all, there’s no accounting for taste. But this goes beyond pure aesthetics. In its attempts to kowtow to a younger generation, “Your Army Needs You” comes off as flippant—not a great frame of mind in which to consider one of the biggest life decisions a person can make.