From data to belonging: why the new British army ad campaign is genius


The release of the British Army’s latest marketing campaign has sparked debate among the general public, many of whom are wondering whether the new direction the advertising campaign has taken is the right one for engaging with potential recruits.

The new campaign has moved away from previous adverts, which showcased more traditional, military themes, highlighting the various roles that people could undertake in the military, while showing collages of equipment and combat in foreign locations. The emphasis of the new strategy, on the other hand, is centered around the emotional support that one can receive, with questions such as ‘What if I get emotional in the army?’.

The criticism was immediate in the aftermath of the release of the new campaign, with many arguing that the new ads were too focused on attracting minorities and would not appeal to the core demographic of young, white males that has traditionally formed the greatest grouping in the ranks.

Proponents of the campaign argue that British society, its values and its demographic makeup, is rapidly changing and the army must evolve with it. Recruitment numbers are down - the lowest they have ever been in the modern era - and those who are behind the latest strategy say the army must appeal to new segments of society if it hopes to resolve this issue.

While many may think it is a transparent attempt to target minorities, the insight and analysis that has formed the basis for the theme of the campaign is actually much more complex.

The agency behind the new ads, Karmarama, utilised a wide range of data sources, including social data, to analyse what motivates different people to join the army. The central concept that emerged from the resulting insight was simple: belonging. Whether it’s an urge to travel or a desire to learn new skills, the one thing that unites all army recruits is the desire to belong to something meaningful.

The campaign gets its power from the different ways in which this concept was interpreted and fed through each of the adverts, be it hiking in the mountains or changing a tyre.

Despite debate around the campaign’s effectiveness, it appears to be working. According to Karmarama, applications are up 139% compared to the same period in 2016 (although these results have yet to be independently verified).

The campaign’s success is largely due to the intelligent use of emotional analytics to identify a central, unifying motivation for enlisting. It is a brilliant example of the growing strength of using passion data to help develop the tone, theme and concept of an advertising campaign.

Starcount’s Product Director, Mark Burton was equally impressed, stating: ‘This is a strong example of utilising a range of data points to develop a concept based on the motivations of a whole variety of individuals from across the spectrum. Far from alienating anyone, the campaign emphasises a vital reason that so many people look to join the armed forces: to become part of a community and develop a lifelong bond with others.

Where Karmarama could perhaps have gone one step further is in developing a more detailed segmentation, using emotional analytics based on the social data to develop a range of passion sets that fit with specific audiences. These could have fed into individual ads, each highlighting a specific passion, such as driving a vehicle or tank, but all the while being underlined by the concept of belonging. In turn, this could have been used to then target individuals whose data has identified them as having a passion for, in this case, vehicles and driving.

At Starcount, we are pleased to see others breaking the mould and looking to social data to provide the answers. However, we pride ourselves on going one step further, creating detailed passion graphs that segment individuals based on their passions and motivations.’

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