Your Army needs to understand You

Written by Martin Lucas

I was raised in a military family and I know what purpose is when it comes to the armed forces: through my childhood I saw it, I lived it and I felt it. It comes with a great sense of belonging and how it widens (and conditions) the mind as you see more of the world and create kinship with those ‘in it’.

The Forces challenge has always been helping the target audience see the opportunity it presents, the validity for them to be part of it and the engagement to believe they can act and join it.

Let’s explore the reasons why this campaign is generating so much criticism and where the Army can make some simple changes and begin attract those people they want to serve. It starts with understanding who these individuals are and how they define themselves, a goal you can only accomplish when you have awareness of your own bias.

I’ve seen articles in The Drum and this from the Standard re Tweets that sum up the bias in play pretty well:

What a lovely modern social way to show you are completely missing the point yourself. Whilst it may be a solid political points scoring exercise to defend the Army, that was and is not the issue, the issue is one of context. You cannot attract people to consider completely changing their lives with a message of negativity and that is the starting point of the Army campaign:

No individual sits around mulling how to define their own generation unless they are mad keen Philosophers or doing a Sociology study inline with Strauss-Howe. Nor does any individual define themselves based on generational stereotypes, why? Because no individual is faced with these stereotypes in their faces, in their ears, it’s just not how day to day life is for the people who get stereotyped. What is in play is anyone searching for purpose, to belong, to feel good about the hand life has dealt them, look at each poster again and see how it would make you feel, does it attract you to want to know more?

Consider the generation in play here and as defined by the Army; the target is people from a lower socioeconomic background, what does that mean?

Well, the mind is your bias, it’s your experience of life and when left untethered it goes to what it knows. In this case the assumptive bias of the campaign creators is the stereotypes of phone usage, gaming, people who apparently muck about, it’s frankly at best lazy and at worse stupid and arrogant as a way not to define something their target would care about, it’s just reasoning of older people who lazily criticise those they don’t understand. I’m 41 and heard the same shit re gaming, re phones, re being a class clown when I was a kid but not all the time, it was on the occasional piece of news and rarely in my face and never to the point that I ever once thought about defining myself or my life this way. It’s not how an individual thinks.

The reason we are here is because of assumptive bias, when we don’t understand a group of people we go to what we know and that is assumption and bias together. Some great Tweets via the Campaign Live article:

I ‘heart’ Sarah

I ‘heart’ Matt

This is two people giving their reaction to a campaign on an instinctive and very apt level, what they are applying is their emotional intelligence and that’s how we can fix this campaign because not all is lost, watch this:


The video makes you think ‘ah, this is not as shit as the posters’ and it’s not, it has more emotion, more of a story and more life opportunity to it. Where the video misses the mark by keywording in ‘millennials’ to justify it’s idea versus proving its worth is the issue. The message of ‘Your Army Needs You’ is wonderful positive psychology but the notion of the supermarket worker is lazy and again assumes a lot and loses your attention.

If you want to understand your target market and how to engage them then it comes down to the research you put in to understand issues and needs of the people you intend to serve. Sarah & Matt absolutely nailed it, we have a growing Anxiety issue in the world and yes, a lot is driven by social media psychology as it creates the modern version of keeping up the jones and every hour of every day drives home what you have versus everyone else, it’s an evil game of perception but not a conscious issue, it’s just a causation. What is a conscious issue is purpose, belonging and belief.

When you examine trauma, addiction, CBT, psychotherapy, psychiatry, coaching and mentoring: across all those disciplines there is one continuous issue and one continuous common solution - when an individual discovers they are not alone, that they shouldn't suffer in silence it begins to create a sense of self belief. This notion of belief is the biggest thing holding back most humans; whatever age, whatever generation and often with a deeper psychological cause than they understand themselves. We don’t need our Army target audience to be experts in self, we just need to become the guiding hand that helps them, that shows them what LIFE could be and not just as a job because the Army is not just a job and this target audience is not just thinking about a job: everyone wins in this situation when the focus is life, belief and what you can become.

This is the trick of the mind which causes the same mistake time and time again in the advertising industry: our individual mind creates the bias which becomes the idea vs understanding the individual we intend to serve. It’s a 101 in positive psychology, a little reframing of the posters, some audio editing of the videos and you’d have a much more positively engaging, positive change message.

I don’t believe I have the answers but more relevant insights & questions to drive the outcomes needed:

  • Our target is 16-25 year olds.
  • They have a lower socioeconomic status which simply means they don’t believe in themselves or can see what life could be.
  • Imagine you are held back simply by the situation you were born into.
  • Imagine the education system never helped you be what you can be, to nurture you various skills and way of learning.

What are the gains of my life in the army?

What would make me change my life and believe the army was the answer?

What experience would you create?

What language would you use and why?

What imagery and why?

Where would you place your content?

What media and mediums?

What times of day?

How would you like offline and online?

How could we gamify this?

How can we change the 18 month process with Capita?

What would you change inside their recruitment system?

How could we create consistency from proactive to engagement to sign up in the whole marketing ecosystem of the Army?

How do I speak in my day to day life?

What do I enjoy?

What do I need to react and to feel in a way that sows a seed in mind for change?

The key is to show not tell and to do so using an experience that matches relevancy for me (meaning the person you wish to serve) and given in a context that is positive for me.

I mentioned I was raised in the forces, my childhood moment for joining the forces came in High School years after my parents had left the forces. We were told to go to the Library and were sat down one at a time in front of a computer with a stranger. My immediate thoughts were this is a setup, it just felt wrong, we started with no context and some questions:

Question 1: Do you like being inside or outside?

Me: Outside

Head thought: This is fucking Army recruitment

Question 2: Do you like gardening?

Me: No

Question 3: Do you like swimming?

Me: No

Head thought: Fuck the Navy

It was a decision tree and I got told at the end ‘The computer says you should join the Army’ and they handed me a flyer and it literally made me decide not to join the forces at all. Army recruitment is not a new issue nor is it exclusive to Millennials.

The context is only ever as strong as the strategy. Make it real and understand the life of whom you wish to touch. It’s not selling fashion or a cup of coffee, the Army is a big life changing decision, help me understand what I can gain and what I can change about my life, it is not just a job nor will I change my life because of lazy insults that don’t matter to me.