The first time Lord Kitchener’s mug was used for British Army recruitment, it was 1914 and the world was fighting the Great War.
Kitchener, serving at the time as British war minister, stared out from the cover of London Opinion magazine with a pointed finger and simple message: “Your Country Needs You.” The magazine cover was turned into a poster, with slightly different wording under the senior military commander’s stern face. Then, countries across the globe mimicked the format, with the United States replacing Kitchener with the fictional Uncle Sam.
Now, the British Army is reviving the historic slogan — with new faces and messaging targeting millennials and Gen Z.
Dear “snowflakes,” the army needs you “and your compassion.” All the “selfie addicts” out there? The military values you “and your confidence,” too. And it’s asking “phone zombies” to bring their “focus” to war zones.
“Big gamers” are wanted for their “drive” and “Me Me Me Millennials” for their “self-belief.”
The posters are accompanied by promotional videos that show young people in mundane jobs or acting out the stereotypes that older generations hold about those in their late teens and 20s. The videos then cut to scenes of those same young people using their focus or compassion to benefit the Army. On social media, the purpose behind this recruitment strategy was put simply: “The Army spots potential. Even if others don’t.”
“The Army sees people differently and we are proud to look beyond the stereotypes and spot the potential in young people, from compassion to self-belief,” Maj. Gen. Paul Nanson said in a statement. “We understand the drive they have to succeed and recognise their need for a bigger sense of purpose in a job where they can do something meaningful.”
In a news release announcing the new recruiting campaign, which launched on Thursday, the British Army said the “Your Army Needs You” message is the third installment of the “This is Belonging” series — an effort to paint to the Army as inclusive and welcoming. The first campaign, in 2017, focused on “the emotional benefit of the strong bonds experienced in the Army,” according to the release. In 2018, the Army emphasized the importance of diversity in the military.
The targeted campaign has led to an increase in Army job applications for regular soldier duties, which are at a five-year high, the release said.
The Army has recently struggled to reach its recruiting target. The Guardian reported that the Army “underestimated the complexity of what it was trying to achieve” when it contracted recruitment work to Capita in 2012, according to a National Audit Office report in December. Since the contract began, the Army has missed all recruiting targets, the Guardian reported.
The length of the process may have contributed to a pattern of people voluntarily dropping out of the application process, the Army and Capita said in the report.
“People are fundamental to the Army,” said U.K. Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson. “The ‘Your Army needs you’ campaign is a powerful call to action that appeals to those seeking to make a difference as part of an innovative and inclusive team. It shows that time spent in the Army equips people with skills for life and provides comradeship, adventure and opportunity like no other job does.”
“Now all jobs in the Army are open to men and women,” Williamson continued. “The best just got better.”
Past iterations of the “This is Belonging” recruitment campaign had drawn criticism. One retired commander said the 2018 installment, which focused on recruiting people from a diversity of genders, sexualities, faiths and ethnicities, was bowing to political correctness.
“The army, like the rest of government, is being forced down a route of political correctness,” retired colonel Richard Kemp, who commanded British troops in Afghanistan, told BBC Breakfast, the Guardian reporter. “What is most important is that the army is full of soldiers. It is of secondary importance that they reflect the composition of society.”
Other leaders denied that the campaign meant the Army had “gone soft.”
“We are getting new types of applicant; that’s why we need to adjust the approach we are using to how we nurture them into the army,” Gen. Nick Carter, who was at the time chief of the general staff, told BBC Radio 4′s Today program. “This campaign is a recognition that we don’t have a fully manned army at the moment, that the demography of our country has changed, and that we need to reach out to a broader community in order to man that army with the right talent."
The most recent campaign has received criticism, too, both for insulting millennials and for insulting the integrity of the armed forces.
A reporter for The News in Portsmouth spoke with Army veterans who weren’t fond of the warm, fuzzy recruiting technique. One said it was “unbelievable and embarrassing.” Another said it was “political correctness gone bonkers.”
Stephen James, a former private in the Army, asked simply: “What fresh hell is this?”