The King's Shilling

‘Foul’ screamed The Guardian in front page outrage. ‘Army ads targeting stressed teenagers’. To many of us it appeared that the newspaper had just discovered the existence of targeted advertising and inadvertently decided to tell their advertisers about it.

In brief the MOD had dared to reach out to their target market at a time when they thought that market may be interested in hearing about the jobs they had on offer. I’ve no doubt that the timing could’ve been better than on exam results day but equally the apparent existence of jobs that don’t require qualifications could be reassuring to people who’ve failed to get any. As we no longer have much industry or retail it’s fair to ask what opportunities there are these days for such individuals.

The emergence of ‘targeted advertising’ has allowed marketing and advertising professionals to maximise effectiveness, to get better results. The holy grail has always been a higher ROI and, to a degree, better targeting enables this.

I think The Guardian may have been more concerned that the army and its advertising were lacking morals. There is clearly a place for moral thinking in marketing but few would expect it. Their ads may have pictured an armoured vehicle at sunrise but you’d hardly have expected them to show bodies on the battlefield and they’re probably banned from showing tracer fire and explosions on the grounds of glorifying warfare.

In the same sense, you wouldn’t anticipate an ad for a dull data-entry job to show a lank-haired, sweat-stained, spotty teen hunched over a keyboard. Advertisers are compelled to make things glossy, clients and recipients expect it.

I don’t imagine that the agency working on behalf of army recruitment deliberately targeted ‘stressed teens’, their scope was based on age plus geographical and social groupings. It was aimed at the people most likely to respond, that’s how advertising works these days.

Government bodies may have more of a duty to be moral but it’s not so long since drunks were drafted by dropping a coin in their drink, there are limitations. At the very least the ad copy didn’t say ‘Failed your exams? You can still be cannon fodder’ even if we all know that’s what it meant.