The only way to properly love your country is to shoot someone foreign in the face about it, everyone knows that. The only true path to nobility is through torrid war and horrible violence and, like, saluting a lot and having really clean boots. This is what the elderly and the time-ravaged and the Brexit voters and the right-leaning over-50s tell us: that we, soft boi millennials, should all shape up and ship out and spend at least a two-year stint in the army to beat those pesky quirks out of us – like ‘enjoying brunch’, ‘apps’ and ‘not actively being at war with someone’ – then come back and stiff-upper-lip this country right back to the pinnacle of the world again. Ah, you like buying trainers, do you? 24 months of dodging sniper fire will get rid of that!
So we all agree the army is excellent and the only true path to righteousness: good. The latest army ad campaign, launched today, then, is… ah…? Uh…?
That’s essentially a generation-wide neg, isn’t it? This is a lad in a bar telling you that you could be an 8 if you wore more make-up… so why don’t you get shot in the head about it? Three boys in faux-fluff top hats with painted nails circle around you and tell you that your body language is uptight and jumping on a grenade would help fix it. An amateur magician called ‘Flash’ is aggressively reading your palm and telling you your future involves eating shrink-sealed ration packs boiled in tepid water. It’s all a bit weird, in short! And I! Have! Some! Questions!
WHO’S LOOKING AT THIS AND GOING: ‘YEP, ME. THAT IS ME. I AM GOING TO JOIN THE ARMY NOW.’?
Who’s this for? I am just wondering, because I don’t think this is particularly for anyone, and all the headlines about it have been very ‘LOL, THE ARMY THINKS YOUNG PEOPLE ARE SNOWFLAKES’ and not ‘the army has put out a very ineffective advert that seems completely mispitched at the target audience they are going for’. I understand that my take – the latter take – is far, far more boring than the first, but bear with me here: you are 20 years old, drifting through life in a small town without any great employment prospects; you have some bar shifts going or a job at a restaurant but you fundamentally feel you are destined for something more purposeful; you didn’t really thrive in an academic environment and friends who did have since left town; you’re good with your hands and physically fit; you are, for all intents and purposes, the exact perfect candidate for the army to take and mould and make their own. And then they hit you with a poster that says, ‘ALRIGHT, TOSSER? GOT AN iPHONE, DO YOU? THE BEHAVIOUR OF A WORM, THAT IS.’ It’s hardly going to make you put the PlayStation down and live your life beneath the honour of war, is it?
IS THIS ADVERT A GOOD ADVERT?
Sadly in my life I know people who work in advertising, and asked one of them whether this army advert is ‘good’, and they said ‘no’ and then the word ‘shite’, which let me know they think it is shite.
To anonymously elaborate: “No one self-identifies as a ‘snowflake’ or a ‘phone zombie’ so who are these aiming at? You don’t engage people by holding a mirror up to their world, it’s just lazy.” There's a pretty lean argument that these are a sort of reverse-psychology experiment – appealing to the kind of young people who comment 'my generation makes me sad' on vlogs and who kick back hardest against labels such as 'has ever taken a selfie in their life' – but I think that might be a bit too generous to the army. Essentially, these posters are just a grab-bag of three-years-out-of-date media buzzwords and selling absolutely nothing (the old adverts, at least, sold a sort of rough idea that joining the army would result in camaraderie, structure and decent pay) to the people it’s meant to sell to. It’s an ‘avocado brunch’ joke that has got entirely out of hand. If the army are this bad at missing targets I’m genuinely worried about our next war.
HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?
How, then, did this happen? The answer is most probably: ‘an ad agency pitched a number of semi-decent army recruitment campaigns and the army picked the absolutely worst one, because they are the army’. This screams of ‘six 45-year-olds in a room chose this one because they got it’ rather than ‘someone chose this because it was deemed to be deeply effective’. Problem: Young people are snowflakes, aren’t they? Problem: not enough of them get shot. Solution: get the army to tell them they’re wet. Result: deep tactical failure.
FUCKING AS IF YOUR MUM ISN’T ON CANDY CRUSH LITERALLY ALL THE FUCKING TIME THOUGH
Sidebar, for sure, but I am a little bit sick of the ‘PHONE ZOMBIE’ discourse that young people are on their phones all the time and old people are walking around, head upright, breathing deep lungfuls of verdant country air and having deep, meaningful conversations with their mouths, like they did in olden days. That is because: that is bullshit. First fucks, your mum is addicted to at least one iPhone game and plays it near constantly while watching TV, when she isn’t texting the family WhatsApp group constant old person memes which she peers at through bifocals with the text size turned all the way up to maximum. Your nan shags her Kindle. Your dad only yells “OH, ARE WE BORING YOU?” when you check your phone for exactly one second at dinner because none of his friends text him anymore because they are dead. Non-millennial people (NMPs) have phones and they use them near-constantly. Just because they don’t know how to update their iOS doesn’t mean they’re better than us.
IS THIS… GOOD? IS THIS… DELIBERATE?
Listen: I acknowledge that for some people – a significant portion of people, even – the army or navy or whatever is actually a very appealing, structured career path that can offer firm barriers to people whose lives perhaps lack them, and also can train you to run really fast while carrying a heavy backpack, which is a fundamentally useful skill. What, are we all meant to work in offices are we? Churning out content all the time? No: for some people, very slowly tinkering with a tank all day, climbing over an obstacle and going to bed when someone aggressively shouts at you to do that is: good. Let them have it. Let them have army.
That said, I’ve always been a little uncomfortable with the whole idea of an army recruitment drive: there’s just something unsettling about a 30-second advert reminding me about war halfway through a 4OD Peep Show binge, some lad in a beret saluting at the camera on a gunmetal-grey island somewhere while I’m just trying to forgive Orange for deleting the twins. Some people are good at army, and let them, I say. But I don’t want to put a beret on and be yelled at, so please stop trying to recruit me.
So is it, fundamentally, a Good Thing that the army has absolutely no idea how to talk to young people? From my cynical ‘no thanks, army!’ point of view, yes: literally no 19-year-old alive is going to look at this advert and go, ‘You know what: I do look at my phone too much. Get me a uniform, right now! I don’t want this PS4 anymore! Shoot it with a gun!’ If army recruitment propaganda dips to a low and ineffective level, then… good? That’s… good? I can live with that?
Anyway, I’ll use this bit for some jokes about how snowflakes would fare in the army: badly. The answer is, ‘badly’. But then I’d like to see most non-army people thrive in such conditions: you think Piers Morgan would do well at army? He’d puke up on the first practise run and end up going red the first time someone talks over him. Piers Morgan, in the kit room, sobbing because he can’t do up his fatigues. Piers Morgan, stuck at the top of a rope climb, unable to get down, a thin hot trickle of urine pouring out of his trouser leg. Piers Morgan can not bring himself to gulp a hot wet egg out of a ration sachet. Piers Morgan going Full Metal Jacket after everyone else beats him with soap. Piers Morgan, slumped on a toilet before a wall full of blood. The army is good for some people, sure. But I’m not sure going after easily offended people by calling them ‘wetlad snowflakes’ is exactly the right way of boosting the ranks.
Here's Alhan doing war it's about as close to 'snowflakes in the army' as you're ever going to get
This article originally appeared on VICE UK.