New Army recruitment adverts 'won't appeal to new soldiers'

Media caption,
The new adverts from the Army are voiced by serving soldiers

Critics have said an Army recruitment campaign, which promotes the emotional support given to troops, will fail to target those most likely to sign-up.

New radio, TV and online adverts seek to address concerns potential soldiers might have about religion or sexuality.

Retired Colonel Richard Kemp said the new £1.6m campaign would not solve the Army's "recruiting crisis".

But General Sir Nick Carter, head of the Army, said the campaign reflected the country's changing demography.

The new adverts, which are all voiced by serving soldiers, are part of the Army's "belonging campaign".

They ask: "What if I get emotional?", "Can I be gay in the Army?" and "Do I have to be a superhero?"

In one, a Muslim soldier explains how the army has allowed him to practise his faith.

'Army struggling'

Colonel Kemp - the former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, who served in the Army until 2006 - said while the adverts were aimed at a number of minority groups, they missed out the Army's core recruitment pool.

"I think what the Army needs to do in order to deal with its recruiting problem is not to specifically appeal to minorities - of course, the more people from all parts of society who join the better.

"But it's even more important than that to fill the Army up with people who want to fight and want to be soldiers. And this, I don't think, will do that."

Instead, he called for the Army to focus on retention problems and deal with its "impenetrable" application process and the "horrific bureaucracy" surrounding it.

Major General Timothy Cross, who retired in 2007, said the Army was "really struggling" with recruitment and should not be trying to be "jolly nice to people".


By Jonathan Beale, BBC defence correspondent

These are not the kind of recruitment adverts most people would probably expect from the Army.

The emphasis is on the emotional rather than the physical, a sense of excitement, and the usual images of military hardware.

Some will see them as a sign the Army has gone soft by focussing on people's worries. They will question whether it's another sign of pandering to political correctness.

But like most large organisations, the Army wants to be seen as modern and a reflection of the society it represents.

That means an emphasis on being open to all - regardless of gender, race, religion or class.

It fits in with the head of the Army General Sir Nick Carter's mantra of "maximising people's talent" regardless of background.

But he also insists that combat ethos and fighting power remain the Army's priority. These adverts just might not give that impression.

However, Sir Nick said the traditional recruit had been young, white men, aged from 16-25, but demographic changes meant there were now "not as many of those around as there once were".

"Our society is changing and I think it is entirely appropriate for us therefore to try and reach out to a much broader base to get the talent we need in order to sustain combat effectiveness," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

He said applications to the British Army had gone up by 30-35% in the past nine months.

"What is interesting is we are now getting new types of applicant and that's why we need to adjust the approach we are using to how we nurture them into the Army."

Critics 'wrongheaded'

The campaign comes just weeks after plans to scrap the Army's "be the best" slogan for being "dated, elitist and non-inclusive" were halted, according to the Mail on Sunday, by Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson.

Sir Nick said "Be the best" remained the Army's "institutional slogan" but the current advertising campaign focused on notions of "belonging and team-building".

Conservative MP Johnny Mercer, a former Army officer and Afghanistan veteran, backed the army's attempt to attract recruits from different backgrounds.

He said: "There is no point asking the Army to reflect the society from which it is drawn and then knocking them for conducting an evidence-based change of course on recruitment."

Labour's Wes Streeting agreed, adding "for former senior officers to point out that the Army has a recruitment problem and then knock the Army for attempting to address that issue through a positive and inclusive recruitment campaign seems thoroughly wrongheaded".

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
The Army put plans to abandon its crest on hold after opposition from the defence secretary

The new adverts come against a backdrop of the Army straining to retain and recruit soldiers for a number of years.

A report, compiled by Conservative MP Mark Francois, last year warned the armed forces were "hollowing out" due to recruitment issues, blaming high employment rates and demographic changes within the UK.

He said problems seem "unlikely to abate in the years immediately ahead" and the scale of the challenge must "not be underestimated".

Between April 2016 and March 2017, 8,194 soldiers joined the British Army.

However, 9,775 left during the same period, with family life and "opportunities outside the forces" among the reasons given.

About 10% of members of the UK regular forces are women, and 7.5% come from black, Asian and ethnic minority (BAME) communities.