Capita and the British Army’s Recruitment Partnership Project (RPP) recently celebrated winning Marketing Week’s Long-term Brand Building Excellence award.

This recognised the incredible impact of the British Army’s famous This is Belonging advertising and communications campaigns, which have significantly contributed to another of our key 2020 milestones – hitting 100% of soldier recruitment targets for the first time.

Here is some background to how Capita and the British Army have partnered to create one of the most successful and globally admired military recruitment stories.

When Capita began working on the RPP in 2012, it was clear that the Army faced a critical recruitment challenge. With the numbers of people seeing it as their calling rapidly declining, there was a critical need to convince a broader group that joining the Army was indeed for them. Previous recruitment campaigns had promoted the action and adventure of a military career, but Capita discovered a deeper, more emotional benefit at the heart of Army life: belonging to something bigger than oneself. This core insight fuelled the This is Belonging campaign, a long-term platform flexible enough to evolve as audience motivations and culture shifted.

This is Belonging has unquestionably transformed Army communications. It has exposed surprising sides to Army life and brought unprecedented emotion into the functional world of military recruitment. It has also delivered data-driven content to affect and influence candidates close to application, has redefined how the British Army is perceived by evolving demographics and target groups, and delivered record-breaking applicant numbers.

Britain relies on its army to protect and defend it in an unstable world. Recruiting soldiers is crucial to its ability to fulfil this role and, as recently as 2016, it faced a series of critical recruitment challenges:

  • An aging population with a reducing pool of potential young recruits
  • The highest employment rates since the 1970s, meaning that the audience had many other career options
  • The British Army was the smallest it had been since 1980, so the power of peer-to-peer communication was minimal
  • No high-profile conflict meant that the Army was less appealing to front-line action seekers.

These challenges meant there was no audience of highly engaged Army ‘fans’ who had always wanted to join, so our campaign needed to appeal to a broader target audience, who didn’t see the Army as their ‘calling’.

To achieve this wider appeal, we needed to do two things:

  1. The typical Army advertising tropes of action, adventure and adrenaline was no longer enough. We had to communicate something new and surprising about the British Army that would make potential recruits think differently about it.
  2. A broad range of factors affects making such a significant life decision. We needed to tailor messaging to be persuasive at various points in the journey.

We set out in search of the data and insight to deliver on these ambitions. Our data team used social listening to analyse previously successful candidates’ online interests, revealing 12 rational drivers that motivate applications, which varied from ‘travel’ to ‘skills’ to ‘pay’. To speak to our audience in relevant ways, we created tailored messaging around each of these motivators, but we still needed something surprising and universally appealing that encouraged our audience to consider an Army career in the first place.

In-depth interviews with serving soldiers revealed a powerful emotional driver that attracted people to the British Army beyond skills and adventure. It was about belonging to a brotherhood and sisterhood, developing powerful bonds that fuelled them, inspired them, supported them and encouraged them to grow. The notion of belonging to something bigger than you – one of psychology’s most powerful drivers - became the core strategic thought behind our campaign.

This strategic shift transformed Army communications from the expected action and adventure, to show a side to Army life not seen before: the human side – putting emotions at the heart of Army communications for the first time.

In 2017, the This is Belonging campaign was launched – landing the emotional benefit of belonging, and showing the most human, exciting, authentic and challenging moments of belonging in the Army. The campaign launched with emotion-driven brand adverts, inspiring the audience and changing perceptions of what an Army career looked like.

In digital channels, data-driven communications were developed using the rational drivers identified to keep potential candidates motivated and engaged throughout the lengthy decision-making process. This tailored content was served to potential candidates depending on their interests, at the right time and in the right context.

Since launching This is Belonging, the platform has evolved each year to meet fresh challenges and maintain the campaign’s relevance to an ever-shifting audience and culture. In 2018, we were faced with an audience for whom diversity and inclusion was a major workplace priority, but deeply entrenched stereotypes about the classic male, white Army recruit remained. We evolved the campaign by challenging the stereotypes about who belongs in the Army, and by showing how belonging accepts and supports everyone for themselves.

In 2019, when our young audience were being written off as lazy, tech-addicted snowflakes, our campaign showed how belonging meant every young person’s potential was spotted and channelled towards important work. This sparked global media debate, by challenging the society overlooking our audience and showing that, where they saw stereotypes, the British Army saw potential.

In 2020, the campaign evolved to show how belonging in the Army unlocks all that potential through a powerful self-belief that inspires growth in every soldier. At a time when quick-fix confidence boosts surrounds our audience in fast fashion and social media, but lasting confidence is hard to find, we show how belonging in a team that believes in you builds a sense of confidence that lasts.

This is Belonging has transformed how the British Army communicates. It has introduced emotion and humanity into the functional, rational world of military recruitment, alongside rational, data-driven content to make the campaign more persuasive as the application cycle develops. It’s been one of the most talked-about Army recruitment campaigns in history, extending its reach and impact far beyond the media budget. When the most recent phase of the campaign launched in January 2020, it gained 310 pieces of international coverage in the first month, equating to a PR reach of £1.9bn.

The campaign has transformed how young Brits see the British Army, with significant shifts in brand metrics:

  • The audience saw a new side to Army life, with the belief that there’s more to Army careers than just military combat increasing from 65% in July 2016 to 74% in Feb 2020
  • The audience saw the Army as more inclusive, with the belief that the Army is actively recruiting women increasing from 49% in July 2016 to 60% in Feb 2020, and the proportion of BAME candidates believing that the Army is a welcoming environment for all ethnicities increasing from 36% in 2017, to 51% in 2020
  • The audience saw what the Army could offer them personally, with belief that the Army has something to offer ‘people like me’ increasing from 35% in July 2016 to 43% in Feb 2020.

Moreover, the campaign (supported brilliantly by creative agency Karmarama, media strategists, Mediacom and Capita’s employer brand agency, Thirty Three) has impacted more than just perceptions. Since launch, the number of regular soldier applications has increased every year, setting new records. In September 2019, more recruits started basic training than in any month during the previous 10 years and, during the first week of 2020, the record for the highest number of applications to join the Army in a single day was broken three times.

By March 2020, the Army surpassed 100% of its annual recruiting target for soldiers, for the first time in eight years. This was a momentous milestone, which reflects the significant and consistent effort from the British Army, Capita and all the agencies involved to transform Army recruitment. Not only has the campaign been highly effective, but it has also been efficient in delivering the results, as demonstrated by achieving the lowest cost-per-application in the last five years.

For the last four years (and counting), This is Belonging has transformed British Army recruitment advertising. Our powerful new approach has redefined an old institution’s relevance in the modern world, changed the way the Army is perceived, and convinced the next generation of soldiers that the Army is somewhere they want to truly belong.

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