British military recruiters are targeting working-class young people who like risk, are easily influenced and are poor at money management, a briefing document for a glossy army advertising campaign suggests.
The document for the army’s This Is Belonging campaign also highlights a drive to recruit young people in cities in northern England and to grab the attention of possible recruits in places such as gyms, pubs and cinemas.
However, the document warns against showing This Is Belonging adverts before war films. Campaigners against the recruitment of child soldiers say this is to protect the “sanitised” version of army life that the campaign promotes, though the army insists it is because it does not want to attract recruits who glory in violence.
There is concern about some of the army’s tactics for drawing in new recruits. In the summer the Guardian revealed that the army had aimed This Is Belonging material at stressed and vulnerable 16-year-olds via social media on and around GCSE results day.
The briefing paper gives details of how and where This Is Belonging adverts should be placed and gives an insight into some of the thinking behind the campaign, which critics claim gives an unrealistic and romantic idea of life in the army.
Under the heading “target audience”, the document says: “16-24, primarily C2DE”, marketing speak for the lowest three social and economic groups. It says TGI (target group index) work had found that current regular soldiers:
Under the heading “digital campaign”, the document says “focus locations” are the northern cities of Newcastle, Sunderland, Middlesbrough, Liverpool, Leeds, Sheffield, Bradford and Manchester, as well as London, Birmingham, Glasgow and Cardiff.
It says examples of places where OOH (out of home) adverts have worked well include gyms, pubs, bars, sports centres and five-a-side football events. Giving details of how adverts should be used in cinemas, it says: “Usual rules of non-combat films, minimum 12A certificate.”
Isabelle Guitard, the director of programmes at Child Soldiers International, said the document showed British army recruiters continued to disproportionately target young people from poor, working-class backgrounds with limited opportunities.
“They explicitly target adrenaline-seeking teenagers who are easily influenced by those around them. If underage enlistment were really the great opportunity the MoD claims it is, recruitment campaigns wouldn’t need to target their adverts at children with few options.
“The army’s focus on areas where employment opportunities are limited reflects not only a desperate need to fill a recruitment shortfall but a cynical exploitation of the shortage of adequate career and training choices for all young people in society.
“It is so extreme that the army wants to avoid screening adverts at cinemas during military films. This demonstrates the lengths they will go to in order to paint a sanitised view of army life.”
Liz Saville Roberts, the Plaid Cymru MP, said: “The armed forces are shamelessly manipulating the vulnerable qualities we see in a number of young people for their own cynical gain.
“The fact that the armed forces are specifically looking for people who are ‘money-driven but not good at money management’ shows that their focus is only to recruit impressionable soldiers that they can exploit.”
The army insists it is not specifically targeting working-class young people who are bad with money. It says it makes sense to look at the characteristics of serving soldiers when recruiting new ones. It also says it is not unreasonable to look for people who relish risk, since being a soldier is dangerous, and it says those who are easily influenced can more readily fit into a team.
Col Ben Wilde, an assistant director of recruiting, said: “Joining the army gives young people the opportunity for a great career, with the benefit of gaining skills and qualifications through world-leading training, as well as finding a sense of belonging.
“This recruitment campaign is targeted at anyone who meets our high standards, regardless of their background or where they live, and seeks to illustrate the opportunities we are proud to offer.”
The UK is the only country in Europe to recruit soldiers at 16. In the US the minimum age is 17. The UN committee on the rights of the child is among the organisations that have challenged the UK’s position.