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Behind the Uniform

Behind the Uniform

Natasha Smith

Natasha Smith

November 12, 2018

Host/Havas tells the real stories of Australia’s military men and women.

"We introduced the audience to the people behind the uniform, focusing on human stories that were disarmingly honest and therefore believable."

Alex Ball, Client Business Director at Host/Havas, explains how his team was able to uncover what really matters to millennials, and to infuse that into a new campaign for the Australian Defence Force.

 

So, tell us about all of the moving parts of this campaign.

In short, everything we did, over literally thousands of briefs, transformed the Australian Defence Force’s (ADF) recruitment experience. It’d be impossible to cover that all now, but central to all of this activity was remaining consistent to our strategic intent of putting the candidate first and showing that the ADF is a modern, people-focused organization. We did this through two key lenses: increasing consideration and improving conversion.

Within consideration, we set about re-branding the ADF to make it more relevant and relatable to a new generation. We did this in order to improve brand perception and to tackle our largest problem: relatability. We switched the ADF from talking about what they wanted to say to what our millennial audience wanted to hear, finding a sweet spot that worked for both. We introduced the audience to the people behind the uniform, focusing on human stories that were disarmingly honest and therefore believable.

Within conversion, we created communications designed to flourish in the digital age. It wasn’t just about the stories; it was where and how we told them. We bucked the historic reliance on traditional media, reducing TV media spending and significantly increasing digital media. We engaged millennials where they were spending their time: on mobile. That ensured all experiences were tailored to suit their level of interest. We created work for social, not rehashing advertising but tailoring it to best-in-class standards specifically designed to perform in media. Because of the increased importance of these “warm” candidates and funds already spent creating their interest, our first stream of activity was focused on reducing dropout as candidates move through the application process on the Defence Jobs website.

You’ve said that your long-term goal is humanizing the ADF. How did you go about doing that, and how do you continue to make the ADF relatable and approachable?

Our audience, based on their misperceptions were screening out messages, turning off before they would listen in order to be won over. By shifting the focus from service, to the audience, we were able to get them to listen, and from there were able to tell them stories about the real people in the ADF in a down-to-earth, believable way. This allowed us to build trust and get our message across.  

What were the communication objectives that the ADF wanted to meet with an integrated advertising campaign?

Our overall objective was very clear: to annually recruit thousands of young Australians into the Australian Defence Force. We had to move them through a complex recruitment funnel including consideration and, conversion to an application. A clear objective but one fraught with many challenges. These included the fact that the ADF was rejected as a career option by the vast majority of its young audience and there were deep-seated negative brand perceptions about the ADF that didn’t fit the 21st-century workplace expectations of young Australians. In addition, we were operating in a buoyant economy whereas historically a flailing economy increased recruitment due to the job stability of a role in the ADF. Lastly, the requirement for a more diverse workforce increased demand for an audience that had even more strongly held negative perceptions of service than most. Namely, these were women and Indigenous and Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) audiences.

Who is the target audience for this campaign?

The short answer is 16-to 24-year-olds. But in reality, the audience is much wider. A large proportion of new recruits now are actually career switchers. People who may have studied or trained and have started a career already. But, for whatever reason, the career’s not panned out as per their expectations and they’re looking for something new. They’re really valuable candidates as they often have skill sets that are transferable into service.

It’s actually quite funny to sit in research groups where people talk about what they want out of a job: working outdoors and doing something exciting and meaningful are often at the top of the list. But then you propose the perfect solution—a career in the ADF—and they instantly say no. It’s a knee-jerk reaction, and those misperceptions are only exacerbated and strengthened with diverse audiences like women and CALD audiences. We had to overcome the audience’s “self-screening” out of consideration.

"Demystifying the experience is so crucial to breaking down the barriers and building consideration with our audiences."

 

How did you decide on the individual stories that are featured in this campaign?

Once concepts are agreed upon, we work in collaboration with the services to identify potential personnel who could participate. We will often have a series of phone interviews with these personnel, as they’re based all over Australia, to get to know them, their history, and what their life is like in the ADF. In terms of choosing the right people, it’s almost a gut reaction. Given that our entire strategy is to humanize the ADF, when you find yourself “clicking” with a person you know they’d be right. It’s amazing to me, as I think back now about my perceptions when I first started working on the account. Exactly like our audiences, I couldn’t see past the uniform. Quickly you realize they’re just people like you and me, who happen to wear a uniform to go to work. The personnel we’ve been lucky enough to work with have been fantastic, down-to-earth, smart people. Every shoot is great fun and they often really get into the shoot experience.

How do those stories relate to your target audience?

Through a series of different stories, quite literally hundreds across all of the services, there’s something for everyone. There are so many roles, different personalities, and experiences you can have in the ADF that there’s something for everyone. And we try to reflect that in our content. Obviously, not every personality is going to be exactly right for every specific audience member, but through a suite of content, you get a real sense of what it’s like in the ADF. Demystifying the experience is so crucial to breaking down the barriers and building consideration with our audiences.

What might some people be surprised to learn about the making of these stories?

Given that the stories are so amazing, you might be surprised to know that they are all real and the personnel’s own. None of it is sensationalized or created, it’s just captured and told beautifully through the concepts and production.

Which story is your favorite?

There are so many, it’s almost impossible. My favorite story is probably Jeremy’s. He’s just a lovely bloke, such a good nature, and his story is really interesting. In his own words, he went from “just working at a Mexican restaurant making some pretty good nachos” to being a tank driver. What I love about his story, and so many others’ in the ADF, is that it’s not always been easy. They had to work hard to get where they are, but they find their careers so fulfilling. Being honest, and not sugar-coating the realities of service, has been an important tactic in all of our work to build credibility with our audience.

Were there any challenges when creating this campaign?

I think it would be fair to say we’ve had a few. It’s a four-year case study, after all. Behavior change is never easy, and within that, it’s exacerbated by the significant personal commitment people must make in order to join the ADF. Therefore, I think the most difficult challenge we’ve faced is maintaining a consistent strategy throughout—we always put the candidate first. While it seems simple, there have been times where it would have been much easier to adapt to meet our immediate need. But we’re proud to say we’ve kept ourselves honest and continually focused on the bigger picture. Though it’s been tempting to cut corners, always coming back to the singular strategy has meant we’re always aligned at DFR, within the agency and most importantly with the ADF. It’s been our north star, while our biggest challenge has also been our saving grace.

How has this work been received?

Excellently. Not only anecdotally about the assets and how beautiful and crafted they are, but most importantly from a performance point of view. Over the last few years, we’ve been able to beat previous recruitment records even though we’re in a buoyant economy, which is outstanding.

What’s the next iteration?

For us, while the results are exemplary, they only represent the start. Over the last four years, we’ve been able to implement platforms that will be the basis of even more incredibly effective work. With these strong foundations, the next set of results are likely to be even more staggering.

It would be remiss of us to not acknowledge our true partner in this work: DFR. Every day, every brief, they have partnered with us to ensure we’re doing the absolute best work possible. Their passion for what they do is infectious and, simply put, we couldn’t have done it without them. I’d implore anyone reading this that if you want to do effective work then you cannot do it without your client. They have to share the same passion and drive for doing best-in-class work as you. You cannot achieve it on your own.

"We introduced the audience to the people behind the uniform, focusing on human stories that were disarmingly honest and therefore believable."

Alex Ball, Client Business Director at Host/Havas, explains how his team was able to uncover what really matters to millennials, and to infuse that into a new campaign for the Australian Defence Force.

 

So, tell us about all of the moving parts of this campaign.

In short, everything we did, over literally thousands of briefs, transformed the Australian Defence Force’s (ADF) recruitment experience. It’d be impossible to cover that all now, but central to all of this activity was remaining consistent to our strategic intent of putting the candidate first and showing that the ADF is a modern, people-focused organization. We did this through two key lenses: increasing consideration and improving conversion.

Within consideration, we set about re-branding the ADF to make it more relevant and relatable to a new generation. We did this in order to improve brand perception and to tackle our largest problem: relatability. We switched the ADF from talking about what they wanted to say to what our millennial audience wanted to hear, finding a sweet spot that worked for both. We introduced the audience to the people behind the uniform, focusing on human stories that were disarmingly honest and therefore believable.

Within conversion, we created communications designed to flourish in the digital age. It wasn’t just about the stories; it was where and how we told them. We bucked the historic reliance on traditional media, reducing TV media spending and significantly increasing digital media. We engaged millennials where they were spending their time: on mobile. That ensured all experiences were tailored to suit their level of interest. We created work for social, not rehashing advertising but tailoring it to best-in-class standards specifically designed to perform in media. Because of the increased importance of these “warm” candidates and funds already spent creating their interest, our first stream of activity was focused on reducing dropout as candidates move through the application process on the Defence Jobs website.

You’ve said that your long-term goal is humanizing the ADF. How did you go about doing that, and how do you continue to make the ADF relatable and approachable?

Our audience, based on their misperceptions were screening out messages, turning off before they would listen in order to be won over. By shifting the focus from service, to the audience, we were able to get them to listen, and from there were able to tell them stories about the real people in the ADF in a down-to-earth, believable way. This allowed us to build trust and get our message across.  

What were the communication objectives that the ADF wanted to meet with an integrated advertising campaign?

Our overall objective was very clear: to annually recruit thousands of young Australians into the Australian Defence Force. We had to move them through a complex recruitment funnel including consideration and, conversion to an application. A clear objective but one fraught with many challenges. These included the fact that the ADF was rejected as a career option by the vast majority of its young audience and there were deep-seated negative brand perceptions about the ADF that didn’t fit the 21st-century workplace expectations of young Australians. In addition, we were operating in a buoyant economy whereas historically a flailing economy increased recruitment due to the job stability of a role in the ADF. Lastly, the requirement for a more diverse workforce increased demand for an audience that had even more strongly held negative perceptions of service than most. Namely, these were women and Indigenous and Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) audiences.

Who is the target audience for this campaign?

The short answer is 16-to 24-year-olds. But in reality, the audience is much wider. A large proportion of new recruits now are actually career switchers. People who may have studied or trained and have started a career already. But, for whatever reason, the career’s not panned out as per their expectations and they’re looking for something new. They’re really valuable candidates as they often have skill sets that are transferable into service.

It’s actually quite funny to sit in research groups where people talk about what they want out of a job: working outdoors and doing something exciting and meaningful are often at the top of the list. But then you propose the perfect solution—a career in the ADF—and they instantly say no. It’s a knee-jerk reaction, and those misperceptions are only exacerbated and strengthened with diverse audiences like women and CALD audiences. We had to overcome the audience’s “self-screening” out of consideration.

"Demystifying the experience is so crucial to breaking down the barriers and building consideration with our audiences."

 

How did you decide on the individual stories that are featured in this campaign?

Once concepts are agreed upon, we work in collaboration with the services to identify potential personnel who could participate. We will often have a series of phone interviews with these personnel, as they’re based all over Australia, to get to know them, their history, and what their life is like in the ADF. In terms of choosing the right people, it’s almost a gut reaction. Given that our entire strategy is to humanize the ADF, when you find yourself “clicking” with a person you know they’d be right. It’s amazing to me, as I think back now about my perceptions when I first started working on the account. Exactly like our audiences, I couldn’t see past the uniform. Quickly you realize they’re just people like you and me, who happen to wear a uniform to go to work. The personnel we’ve been lucky enough to work with have been fantastic, down-to-earth, smart people. Every shoot is great fun and they often really get into the shoot experience.

How do those stories relate to your target audience?

Through a series of different stories, quite literally hundreds across all of the services, there’s something for everyone. There are so many roles, different personalities, and experiences you can have in the ADF that there’s something for everyone. And we try to reflect that in our content. Obviously, not every personality is going to be exactly right for every specific audience member, but through a suite of content, you get a real sense of what it’s like in the ADF. Demystifying the experience is so crucial to breaking down the barriers and building consideration with our audiences.

What might some people be surprised to learn about the making of these stories?

Given that the stories are so amazing, you might be surprised to know that they are all real and the personnel’s own. None of it is sensationalized or created, it’s just captured and told beautifully through the concepts and production.

Which story is your favorite?

There are so many, it’s almost impossible. My favorite story is probably Jeremy’s. He’s just a lovely bloke, such a good nature, and his story is really interesting. In his own words, he went from “just working at a Mexican restaurant making some pretty good nachos” to being a tank driver. What I love about his story, and so many others’ in the ADF, is that it’s not always been easy. They had to work hard to get where they are, but they find their careers so fulfilling. Being honest, and not sugar-coating the realities of service, has been an important tactic in all of our work to build credibility with our audience.

Were there any challenges when creating this campaign?

I think it would be fair to say we’ve had a few. It’s a four-year case study, after all. Behavior change is never easy, and within that, it’s exacerbated by the significant personal commitment people must make in order to join the ADF. Therefore, I think the most difficult challenge we’ve faced is maintaining a consistent strategy throughout—we always put the candidate first. While it seems simple, there have been times where it would have been much easier to adapt to meet our immediate need. But we’re proud to say we’ve kept ourselves honest and continually focused on the bigger picture. Though it’s been tempting to cut corners, always coming back to the singular strategy has meant we’re always aligned at DFR, within the agency and most importantly with the ADF. It’s been our north star, while our biggest challenge has also been our saving grace.

How has this work been received?

Excellently. Not only anecdotally about the assets and how beautiful and crafted they are, but most importantly from a performance point of view. Over the last few years, we’ve been able to beat previous recruitment records even though we’re in a buoyant economy, which is outstanding.

What’s the next iteration?

For us, while the results are exemplary, they only represent the start. Over the last four years, we’ve been able to implement platforms that will be the basis of even more incredibly effective work. With these strong foundations, the next set of results are likely to be even more staggering.

It would be remiss of us to not acknowledge our true partner in this work: DFR. Every day, every brief, they have partnered with us to ensure we’re doing the absolute best work possible. Their passion for what they do is infectious and, simply put, we couldn’t have done it without them. I’d implore anyone reading this that if you want to do effective work then you cannot do it without your client. They have to share the same passion and drive for doing best-in-class work as you. You cannot achieve it on your own.

Natasha Smith is the strategic communications manager for Havas Group. She happily represents 404 in the 212.

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