Military Recruiting:

DOD Needs to Establish Objectives and Measures to Better Evaluate Advertising's Effectiveness

GAO-03-1005: Published: Sep 19, 2003. Publicly Released: Sep 19, 2003.

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The Department of Defense (DOD) must convince more than 200,000 people each year to join the military. To assist in recruiting, the military services advertise on television, on radio, and in print and participate in other promotional activities. In the late 1990s, some of the services missed their overall recruiting goals. In response, DOD added recruiting resources by increasing its advertising, number of recruiters, and financial incentives. By fiscal year 2003, DOD's total recruiting budget was approaching $4 billion annually. At the request of Congress, GAO determined the changes in DOD's advertising programs and funding trends since the late 1990s and assessed the adequacy of measures used by DOD to evaluate the effectiveness of its advertising. GAO recommends that DOD set clear, measurable advertising

Since the late 1990s, DOD has revamped its recruiting advertising programs and nearly doubled the funding for recruiting advertising. The military services have revised many of their advertising campaigns and focused on complementing traditional advertising, such as by increasing the use of the Internet, and participating in more promotional activities, such as sports car racing events. DOD's total advertising funding increased 98 percent in constant dollars from fiscal year 1998 through fiscal year 2003--from $299 million to $592 million. The advertising cost per enlisted recruit has nearly tripled and is now almost $1,900. The military services agree that the revised strategies and increased investments have energized their advertising campaigns and better positioned them to recruit in an increasingly competitive marketplace. Today, almost all of the active and reserve components are meeting their overall recruiting goals in terms of the quality and quantity of new recruits. DOD does not have clear program objectives and adequate outcome measures to evaluate the effectiveness of its advertising as part of its overall recruiting effort. Thus, DOD cannot show that its increased advertising efforts have been a key reason for its overall recruiting success. Isolating the impact of advertising on recruiting efforts is inherently difficult because joining the military is a profound life decision. Moreover, DOD has not consistently tracked key information, such as public awareness of military recruiting advertising and the willingness of young adults to join the military. Such data could be used to help evaluate the effectiveness of advertising. Without sufficient information on advertising's effectiveness, DOD cannot determine the return on its advertising funding or make fact-based choices on how its overall recruiting investments should be allocated.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness has been engaged in research to develop models to measure the effectiveness of advertising. The National Academy of Sciences Committee on the Youth Population and Military Recruitment has completed its publication addressing an evaluation framework for advertising and recruiting. In addition, DOD has contracted with RAND's National Defense Research Institute to study how best to evaluate the effectiveness of military advertising.

    Recommendation: To improve DOD's ability to adequately measure the impact of its advertising programs on its recruiting mission, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness to issue guidance that would (1) set clear, measurable objectives for DOD's advertising programs; (2) develop outcome measures for each of DOD's advertising programs that clearly link advertising program performance with these objectives; and (3) use these outcome measures to monitor the advertising programs' performance and make fact-based choices about advertising funding as part of the overall recruiting investment in the future.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense


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