When it comes to advances in recruiting campaign marketing, the United Kingdom has retaken the crown. The innovative style that was once the backbone of the British Empire’s recruiting posters (which was subsequently adopted by the U.S. Army) experienced a resurgence in the past year, appealing to the finer qualities of the younger generation’s digital habits. It raised a lot of eyebrows, but it worked.
Applications to join the British Army have nearly doubled since the campaign began.
Every generation has its chosen medium. Some veterans may have been persuaded by the call to “Be All That You Can Be” via television ads. Others might have been swayed to join the Navy after watching a little movie called Top Gun.
At least one salty Marine out there was swayed with the promise of a muscle car. Enjoy that lease, Corporal.
On Jan. 3, 2019, the British Army launched a recruiting campaign that recalled the “Lord Kitchener Wants You” ads of the First World War. The 1914 poster featured the Empire’s Secretary of State for War, Horatio Herbert Kitchener, in a Field Marshal’s uniform, pointing to the viewer, calling on them to join the British Army to fight the Central Powers on the Continent.
Or wherever they were needed.
The ad was so successful and iconic it was later adopted in the United States, featuring J.M. Flagg’s Uncle Sam calling on Americans to do the same. Other countries also adopted the idea. And just over a century later, it’s back – and the passage of time hasn’t diluted its power one bit.
The original Kitchener poster along with its American and scary German imitations.
According to the Telegraph, the British Army has been struggling with retention and dwindling numbers. More people are leaving the service than joining. It stands to reason the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence is (probably) happy to report that the ads still pack a wallop. In a “resounding success” the first month, applications to join nearly doubled. In January 2019, applications rose to a five-year high, double from the same timeframe the previous year and almost twice from the previous month. The day the ads debuted, more people applied to join in a single day than any other day in the previous year. Hits to the Army’s website also doubled in January.
With monikers dubbing millennials and Gen-Zers “selfie addicts,” “binge gamers,” and “phone zombies,” the MoD called on the new generation of Britons to service. Surprisingly, the advertisements didn’t go straight to Instagram or Facebook, they went to billboards and other forms of outdoor advertising.
“The premise of the campaign is that this is the generation with the skills, the attitude, the drive to succeed; an army that’s not in the army yet,” Command Corporal Major, Warrant Officer Class One Steve Parker told the Telegraph. “People are the army, not in the army.”
The campaign uses these perceived weaknesses to highlight their useful, untapped potential in a series of video ads aired on television and on the internet that followed the release of the billboards.