7 Jan 2019
I spent yesterday applying for a new job. Luckily, I knew just what to say in my cover letter. “I like to think of myself as a me, me, me millennial,” I wrote. “Friends would describe me as the class clown and a selfie-addicted snowflake. Hobbies include sitting up all night playing video games.”
Except I didn’t write any of that. Nobody would set out to insult themselves in a job application, and anyway, any employer who received such a letter would swiftly scrunch it into a ball and catapult it into the nearest bin. Or so you might think.
Yet amazingly, if their new recruitment campaign is anything to go by, that’s exactly the sort of letter the British Army would be happy to receive.
“Me, me, me millennials, your army needs you and your self-belief,” one of their new, Kitchener-style posters reads. Others suggested the Army needs the “drive” it recognises in “binge gamers”, as well as snowflakes’ compassion, selfie-addicts’ confidence, the “focus” clearly exhibited by “phone zombies” and the “spirit” of class clowns.
I’m confused. Am I and my fellow millennials, the supposed targets of these adverts, being insulted – or complimented? It certainly seems like the former.
It’s true that the Army is struggling to entice new recruits. According to a report by the National Audit Office, applications between 2017 and 2018 were down 13,000 on the year before. But I’d expect them to fall even further if they’re relying on such a derogatory, patronising campaign to drum up numbers (the posters are the latest trump card in a multi-million pound, 10-year recruitment drive).
Not only does the use of insulting language prove the Army to be as old-fashioned as many young people fear, but it’s also entirely wrong. Selfie-addicts aren’t confident; they’re usually vain, or insecure; and class clowns take on that role not because they’re spirited, but because they’re full of self-doubt.
On a battlefield, what would he or she be doing anyway? Taking the ammo out of your weapon as a practical joke? A video advert released alongside the posters suggested a gamer glued nocturnally to his Xbox had “stamina”, a particularly laughable claim. I once lived in a flatshare with an obsessive gamer and he was so unfit he couldn’t have run to the end of the road. Is that the sort of stamina it would be helpful to showcase in war? Why the Army would employ the language so often spewed to suggest we’re useless is beyond me. Advertising is supposed to be aspirational, and so this derisive marketing campaign could not have been more misjudged.
Instead of appealing to young people as weak narcissists who live mostly in a virtual fantasy world, the Army top brass could have depicted millennials as super-fit, health-obsessed teetotallers who want to push their bodies to the limits and improve their minds. Surely the Army would prefer ambitious recruits who read that list and think: yes, that’s me.
Millennials are a bright, questioning generation and that has made us savvy when it comes to cynical marketing campaigns.
With a wealth of information online, we’re used to reading into complex issues and take an altogether more discerning approach.
A kick meant “I love you” in the playground but now we’ve grown-up – and backhanded compliments won’t work for the Army.