US Army targets Generation Z with new animated commercials as obesity, other disqualifiers shrink its pool of prospects

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The US Army is trying to reach Generation Z through a new animated recruiting campaign emphasizing that you don’t have to be “superhuman” to join, but only a small subset of its target audience is fit enough to qualify.

The new social-media marketing campaign – “The Calling” – aims to pique the interest of young people who might not have considered themselves obvious candidates for Army service. “Young people see the Army as a distant star, a place that requires nearly superhuman level of discipline and excellence, and they do not see necessarily how that sort of perspective, or myth, what that has to do with what their interests, abilities and goals are,” Major General Alex Fink told Bloomberg in an article published on Monday.

The campaign features videos profiling five young troops, their motivations for joining the Army and the misconceptions and other struggles they overcame to reach their goals. For instance, Emma said she was a spoiled kid, raised by two mothers, but she found the meaningful challenge she was lacking when she answered her calling to join the Army.

Catering to the prospects’ apparent short attention span, the Army hopes to “surprise” them with a 15-second trailer first, before serving a full 2-3 minute ad. “Gen Z flips through social media like it is an Olympic sport, and in order to get them to stop their thumbs for a few seconds, you’ve got to surprise them,” Fink said.

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The Army is counting on innovative marketing and reaching people from more non-traditional backgrounds to meet its recruiting targets at a time when most young people are unfit for service. Of the 34 million Americans in Generation Z – that is, born after 1997 – about 24 million, or nearly 71%, are ineligible for military service, according to 2017 Pentagon data. Obesity is the most common disqualifying factor. Other common issues include medical conditions, criminal records, drug use and failure to earn a high school diploma. Another Pentagon estimate indicates that only about 1% of 17- to 24-year-olds are both eligible and inclined to enter military service.

The Pentagon has reported rising obesity rates in active-duty ranks, too. More than 17% of US military personnel were considered obese as of a 2019 Department of Defense study, up from less than 16% four years earlier. The Navy had the worst obesity rate, at 22%, while the Marines were the best, at 8.3%.

The Army, which had a 17% obesity rate, has made attempts to create a fitter force and launched a new Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT) last year. But 44% of female troops were failing the ACFT as of last month, compared to 7% of men, Military.com reported on Monday.

The Army aims in its 2022 fiscal year, starting on October 1, to generate 35,000 recruitment contracts directly through its marketing efforts, up from 20,000 in its current fiscal year. Its overall recruitment goal is for 60,000 to 70,000 active-duty soldiers this year.

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