Skip to main content

In a bid to attract new recruits, the Canadian Forces are developing an aggressive new advertising campaign that characterizes a military career as an exciting chance to "fight terror."

A draft version of the television ad shows dark images of soldiers in combat and jumping out of a plane. Soldiers are also shown stealthily approaching the door of a home in what appears to be Afghanistan. It then cuts to what looks like three hostages being filmed in a terrorist video and civilians grieving.

During the draft ad, three phrases appear separately in sequence stating: "Fight distress, fight with the Canadian Forces and fight terror." However, focus groups reacted negatively to the phrase "fight terror," and a report from Patterson, Langlois Consultants suggested the Department of National Defence drop it from the final ad along with some of the more aggressive scenes that "may prove more provocative than necessary."

The new action advertisements stand in sharp contrast to earlier Forces recruiting efforts, which in the main emphasized the military as a good place to find a job, career, education and training.

The report shows the Forces have spent considerable effort developing key messages that will resonate with young men inclined to military life at a time when casualties are regularly in the news.

The department commissioned two significant public-opinion studies in 2005 "to identify the perceptions and attitudes of young Canadians toward the CF [Canadian Forces] as well as establish the psychographic and demographic profile of the target audience. . . . Both of these studies were used to design the new television advertising concept for CF recruitment campaign."

For the latest round of focus groups, participants were selected because most were unmarried, did not have a clear career path and said they took part in at least three of the following: camping, travel, playing team sports, listening to music, snowboarding, martial arts and playing computer games.

"DND polling data suggest they characterize young Canadians who are predisposed to considering the military," the report explains.

They were given dials to record whether they were reacting positively or negatively as they viewed the 1½-minute ad.

Specific negative comments from participants included concern that the Canadian Forces is playing an "American-style" aggressive part in the war on terror and that the ad is similar to U.S. Army spots.

The report notes new recruits are needed to meet the Conservative government's promise to significantly increase the total number of Canadian soldiers.

Young Canadians between 18 and 34 are the target of recruiting efforts, but the report warns that this demographic is both shrinking and in high demand by other employers.

The Canadian Forces must recruit 5,000 people to full-time positions and 5,000 to the reserves just to meet attrition levels, yet the government has promised to hire an additional 5,000 troops and 3,000 reserves over the next five years.

A Forces spokesman was quoted in a media report last month saying applications were up for the first part of 2006 and that recruiting was "going well."

The report suggests the ad is more likely to appeal to men.

"The learning to date has demonstrated that men in general, and men disposed to join the CF in particular, were generally less responsive to the CF positioned as a place to find a career, but seemed to react very positively to the CF as a place to find action and engagement. This ad concept therefore, represents an evolution of sorts in how the CF approaches its recruiting communications."

The ad would also be of benefit to the general public, it states, because it would "realign" public perception of the Forces to reflect its current deployments.

The in-depth surveys included five groups of about 50 young people in Victoria, Edmonton, Sherbrooke, Halifax and Hamilton, as well as 10 smaller focus groups. They were held from Feb. 13-21 of this year.