Dear The British Army

British Army


Dear The British Army,

Thank you for making me ponder the difference between two of marketing’s most fundamental levers with your latest Step Up ad.


  • Brand recruitment (aka penetration)
  • vs.
  • Brand retention (aka loyalty)

You see I’m not sure whether the ad – which on the face of it is designed to recruit new soldiers – actually works harder as a means to retain soldiers.

Which may be no bad thing of course, as nor am I sure whether or not, if my theory about the ad is right, you’re doing this on purpose.

OK, let me expand.

It’s a smart insight to identify that a uniquely special relationship exists between a soldier and their boots. I can attest from personal experience* that it does.

And this piece of insightful understanding leads to a neat creative idea that brings alive the rich variety and benefits of life in the British Army…as shown from the perspective of the boot in the ad…and particularly when linked to the motivating Step Up call-to-action.

But here’s the thing.

Until you’ve been a soldier, you don’t have that special relationship.

british army boots

As a potential army recruit, boots are just boots. There’s no meaning there.

As a current soldier, you’ve spent hours and hours polishing them. They’ve been your constant companion on your adventures across the globe. They’ve been through thick and thin, swamp and dessert. They’ve probably been in the presence of the Queen – in all their shining glory. Your most vital bit of kit. You’ve been instructed to love, cherish and care for them. And you do.

Which is why I think this ad does a great job for retention and not such a great job for recruitment. The core emotional hook sinks deep into current soldiers, but skims by potential recruits.

Having said all that, retention might be your intent anyway. You’ve trained them up at considerable expense after all. And it’s well documented that employees feel a disproportionate glow when they see their brand being advertised, demonstrating that their company and by extension they, are doing well.

How Brands Grow Byron Sharp


Byron Sharp has caused a veritable marketing storm with his book “How brands grow” – the central thesis of which is that brands should forget about loyalty and go all out after penetration – and it makes a fair amount of sense given the evidence he presents.

So according to Byron’s view of the world and if my theory about the ad connecting with existing soldiers rather than new recruits is correct and the possibility that you might be doing this on purpose, then you, The British Army, have got yourselves into a royal regimental mess here.


Thanks again


(*As an aside, I developed a very strong bond with my boots despite once being told by an over-zealous Sargent Major (aren’t they all?) that I was a liar on account that I hadn’t polished them – which in fact I had, just not rigourously enough to be to his liking)


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