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The British Army’s marketing needs a 2019 wake-up call

Call me old-fashioned but rarely do you get someone to do something you want by insulting them. “Snowflakes”, “Binge Gamers” and “Me Me Me Millennials” were just some of the few terms used by the British army in an attempt to recruit 16-25-year-olds via updated iconic WWI army posters. Living in a digital world, of course, Twitter went up in flames about this. Some argued that millennials, in fact, were acting like snowflakes over a few words—it’s just an ad, right? Saying one is a “binge gamer” is surely just another way to show the stamina and dedication a gamer staying up all night has.

Yet this comeback fails to see how deep the problem with language is when it concerns the army and ignores the influence and power Britain’s international and political interests have socially across the world. Regardless of its flailing Brexit pound, Britain is still seen as aspirational for many, especially in previously colonised countries across the world, therefore its culture is also one to look up to. So what are we saying about new voters and young adults by essentially calling them to arms by telling them off for being selfish?


This idea of millennials being narcissistic does not just sound old fashioned but is, and in the same outdated breath, social media tends to always be blamed for the foundations of these arguments. The army is essentially saying young people are too busy taking selfies (one of the posters even uses the words “selfie addict”) to care about their country—while ironically sharing their campaign across the same social channels.

What it neglects to see is how much young people are doing more than ever because of this tool. “Creative” was amongst some of the most published terms millennials used to describe themselves while Google searches for how to be an activist skyrocketed in 2018. Whether that was heading to a feminist march that helped girls who are among the poverty line access free sanitary towels at school (just like Free Periods organised with 2,000 other protestors i.e. young people showing up for their peers), or is the push for the Gender Recognition Act for transgender rights in October 2018. I could go on and on but I won’t because you’ve already witnessed it. And probably retweeted it too.

Yet this poster has worked—hasn’t it got everyone talking about it? In an ultra Piers-Morgan-Katie-Hopkins-style bash, its hypocrisy has also gone viral. The tweet “Which 47 year old man came up with these” aptly said what everyone else, sorry, 16-25-year-olds largely thought of in the room. This disconnect with young people is not just shown in how we’re slandered as good-for-nothings but also the toxic language used in the campaign reveals a whole lot about British Army’s relationship with matters of mental health.

The wimpish qualities of a ‘snowflake’ undermine mental health issues such as anxiety and depression—issues millennials are more succumbed to due to the global market competition, lack of jobs and decrease in quality of life while general costs are on the rise. The defence secretary, Gavin Williamson, however, has defended the campaign, calling it “a powerful call to action that appeals to those seeking to make a difference as part of an innovative and inclusive team. It shows that time spent in the army equips people with skills for life and provides comradeship, adventure and opportunity like no other job does. Now all jobs in the army are open to men and women. The best just got better.”

But something isn’t working. The campaign was a direct result of not meeting recruitment targets—something Capita, an outsourcing giant, have been given £495m to do. 47 per cent of applicants have dropped out of the process voluntarily in 2017-2018 while the army has only 77,000 full trained troops instead of the 82,500 target. The British Army and Capita argue it’s due to the length of training that applicants have fallen through but could it also be a result of the British Amry’s archaic ways of doing things and its inability to speak to those they have so brazenly tagged ‘snowflakes’?

Language and ideas have a trickle effect. What this campaign shows, beyond yet another boardroom of decision-makers who are completely disconnected from the public they are targeting, as the toxic culture towards mental health within the country that is still raging. So if the British Army thought it could lure a generation by textbook negging them and pasting diverse faces on its posters, it needs to catch up and realise we don’t do that in 2019.

#Metoo continues to advance, with tech and legislation right behind it

As the effort to tackle sexual harassment in the workplace gains steam, California has recently passed two bills that would prevent silencing sexual harassment victims. The bills, currently pending California Governor Jerry Brown’s signature, are both aimed at assisting men and women who seek justice after suffering sexual harassment by their co-workers or employers and protect them from binding confidential settlement agreements. Similar bills are currently circulating around legislatures in 16 states and have already been enshrined in law in Arizona, Maryland, New York, Tennessee, Vermont and Washington. While such pieces of legislation are certainly valuable, it remains unclear whether they pose a big enough deterrent to sexual harassment in the workplace and the silencing of victims.

There is no doubt that both bills constitute positive developments, and will hopefully encourage legislators elsewhere to adopt the same approach when it comes to protecting sexual harassment victims. That being said, it remains unlikely that such legal action is sufficient in combating sexual predators who seek to silence their victims. One issue is that bills adopted on the state level only protect victims within the boundaries of those states (currently a mere fraction of the entire country).

Bills of this type generally protect victims who have made the decision to come forward and hold their aggressors accountable; a step many are hesitant to take in the first place. This directly ties to a broader issue, which is the general failure of the political and justice systems to foster an environment in which sexual harassment is truly discouraged and in which victims feel sufficiently empowered to come forward and seek prosecution. When across the country politicians, legislators, and judges continuously weaken protections for women and members of the LGBTQ community, and place under doubt their right to their bodies and lifestyles, it becomes ingrained in the national psyche that they are, for lack of a better term, ‘fair game’. It therefore seems that serious gaps exist in the U.S. legal system when it comes to protection of sexual harassment victims and their ability to properly pursue their cases.

What, then, could fill in such gaps and provide an extra support to those seeking to come forward? The answer, perhaps not so shockingly, is tech. Numerous technological startups and innovations have been launched in recent years to support victims of sexual harassment, particularly in taking the first, arguably most daunting step, of coming forward. Stopit, which started as an app designated to assist victims of school bullying report their abuse, has now evolved into a tool for people to instantly and anonymously report abuse or harassment. The app currently operates within educational institutions, businesses, and government agencies. Callisto is an online sexual assault reporting platform, which operates across college campuses as well as various business industries. Through Callisto, victims may insert encrypted information regarding their harasser while their name and contact information remains private and confidential. The report is then decrypted by a Castillo Options Counselor (a lawyer), who provides support and practical information regarding the different legal paths victims may take to win justice. The app also provides a “Matching Escrow” service, which alerts the counsellors whenever two or more people were abused by the same individual, consequently helping identify (and hopefully prosecute) serial offenders.

This isn’t to downplay the role of laws and regulations in the fight against sexual harassment. The first bill passed in California, titled AB 3080, is set to outlaw confidential agreements in sexual harassment cases as well as prohibit mandatory arbitration agreements in employment contracts, both of which discourage many victims from pursuing their legal cases. The other bill, SB 820, would ban agreements that prohibit “disclosure of factual information” in sexual assault and discrimination settlements. Among other stipulations, the bill would allow the name of the victim to remain private but require that perpetrators’ names be made public, thus encouraging victims to come forward without fearing the consequential public recognition. According to Senator Connie M. Leyva, one of the bill’s sponsors, “Legislative approval of SB 820 sends a resounding message to victims that we will do all we can to make sure that their perpetrators are held accountable for their reprehensible actions.”

The introduction of these bills shows that the legal system is waking up to its duty by providing better protection for victims of sexual harassment. In the same breath, the flaws and limitations of the justice system in preventing such abuses and prosecuting perpetrators should be acknowledged, and technological advancements ought to be adopted to complement the legal tools available to victims.