That most iconic of war posters “Your Country Needs You” appeared on the front cover of Times 2 last week, discussing contemporary recruitment to the Army:
“Recruitment costs in 2007-08 were £95.1 million, an increase of nearly £30 million in six years. National marketing and advertising accounts for 27 per cent of this and the army regards this area as the way forward, although it potentially means contracting more of its business to the private sector. To this end the ARG has a civilian marketing director, Colin Cook, “embedded” alongside army staff at Upavon. “Recruitment must be a sophisticated operation,” he says. As with warfare itself, the blanket bombing approach of past campaigns — appealing to patriotism (“Your Country Needs You”) or macho careerism (“Join the Professionals”) — has been superseded by precision strategies employing “targeted messaging”.
One of Cook’s latest decisions is to appoint a new agency AKQA — best know for its Nike ads — to make the internet the Army’s primary recruitment platform. It is already on the offensive and this summer Operation Solomon took place, backed by a TV and radio campaign. The campaign, co-ordinated by the advertising agency Publicis, hinged around ads that drew people to the Army website where they could engage with an interactive game: Start Thinking Soldier.
“We need to talk to young recruits in a way they understand,” Mike Wade, the Publicis planning director, says. “A 55-year-old army brigadier is not going to be able to communicate with a 17-year-old recruit so we have to engage our audience. Start Thinking Soldier was aimed at getting people to come back again and again. It’s the model for the way everyone will have to work in the future.”
The recruits are frank about their reasons for joining up. Each one echoes the view that serving in Afghanistan or another theatre of war is “part of the job”. Brenden Walsh, from Hertford, is typical of the bunch: he’s a good-looking lad headed for the Grenadier Guards, who talks enthusiastically of army opportunities (“skiing, mountaineering, skydiving . . .”). When pressed about combat, he shrugs: “Those people died serving their country and I’m proud and appreciative of their efforts. What would the world be like without people like that? Terrorism has dropped as a result of our efforts out there.”