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Why the British Army’s new campaign is patronising and alienating


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The British Army has launched a controversial new recruitment campaign calling specifically for “Snowflakes”, “Selfie addicts” and “Me Me Me Millenials” to join their ranks.

Based on the Kitchener “Your Country Needs You’ posters used in World War 1, the adverts implore young people to consider an army career, but read more like a desperate “Hey kids, we understand you, come hang with us” plea than a legitimate marketing strategy. 

In the adverts, “Snowflakes” are praised for their compassion, “Binge-gamers” for their drive, and “Me Me Me Millenials” for their self-belief. The idea is that all of the phrases most commonly used as insults towards the younger generations (“snowflakes”, “phone zombies” etc) are flipped on their backs, and the positive traits are highlighted instead. At a glance, it’s a nice idea! 

Image Courtesy of The Ministry of Defence

My colleague at The National Student has described the campaign as “brilliant advertising”, and that’s fair. It’s undoubtable that the adverts highlight positive attributes which aren’t often mentioned when discussing anybody between the ages of 18 and 25, and could even be said to be shining a more likeable light on the term “snowflake”. However, it’s impossible to overlook the fact that the whole thing condones the use of generic, offensive stereotypes towards young people, and alienates the very people that they’re trying to recruit. 

Speaking on Good Morning Britain, Tom Slater, a critic, backed this point up, stating that the use of the term "snowflake" in order to recruit the younger generation will, “if anything, put off the people it’s aimed at”. 

The main reason for this is because it is very, very unlikely that anybody belonging to the so-called “snowflake generation” will actually refer to themselves as such. It’s offensive, it’s patronising and it’s an insult commonly used by Piers Morgan, which tells you all you need to know. 

The fact that the British Army have slung the word “compassionate” underneath the slur doesn’t make it any less unpleasant. When Piers Morgan uses the word “snowflake”, he certainly doesn’t mean to call anybody “compassionate”, and we all know it. He means to say “someone who is overly offended by everything and utterly intolerant of any contrary opinion to their own”, and we know that he means this because that was taken word for word from one of his own Tweets…

The use of the word itself isn't the issue. In fact, Camp America have just released a campaign along extremely similar lines, proving that you can actually use the word "snowflake" on TV without offending a whole generation. Young people are shown on their phones or watching reality TV, alongside millennial-bashing headlines calling the generation "lazy" and "self-obsessed."

Camp America succeeds where the British Army fails because their campaign is all about young people refuting these stereotypes, rather than embracing them. Each teen is shown taking on responsibility, caring for children and generally being a decent human at Camp, proving it is not all about selfies and being offended. Whereas the Army seems to say "Yes, you might be a snowflake. but we'll have you anyway".

The term is so ineffectually used in this campaign, in fact, that the soldier whose image was used under the word “Snowflake” has vowed to resign over the issue. After the image was unveiled, Stephen McWhirter spoke out on Facebook, claiming that he had no idea of the context in which his image would be used, and that he has been subject to ridicule since the image was released. 

Amazingly, McWhirter’s resignation isn’t even the worst thing about the recruitment drive. The very nature of the campaign makes the whole thing feel somehow deceitful because it is, in fact, all about recruitment. The British Army do not want to shine a new light on the term “snowflake” or make you feel better about your lazy millennial reputation, they just want to get more people to join the army… 

Image Courtesy of The Ministry of Defence

The whole thing has been designed with the sole purpose of making you, a young, naive Gen-Z’er, think that you’re actually worth something and that the only people who see this potential, and can nurture this, are the British Army. With this in mind, it becomes less about empowering young people, and more about pathetically buttering-up teens so that the Army stands a chance at improving their currently poor recruitment statistics. 

To make matters worse, this isn’t the first time that the British Army has faced backlash over its recruitment techniques. Targeting minorities, lying to potential recruits about the mental health services available, and flooding vulnerable 16-year-olds with recruitment literature on GCSE results day are just some of the criticisms faced by the organisation in the past. 

Assuming that they can connect with the younger generation by drip-feeding them vague compliments is one of the mistakes made by the British Army when creating this campaign. A second was assuming that the younger generation is naive enough to accept that being labelled a “snowflake” is actually a good thing because it means they’re a bit compassionate. A third was assuming that the “snowflake generation” weren’t going to call them out on it. 

Lead Image Courtesy of The Ministry of Defence


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