DOD Advertising:

Better Coordination, Performance Measurement, and Oversight Needed to Help Meet Recruitment Goals

GAO-16-396: Published: May 12, 2016. Publicly Released: May 12, 2016.

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What GAO Found

The Department of Defense (DOD) has taken steps to coordinate some advertising activities among the military service components, but it has not developed a formal process for coordination. DOD conducts joint market research and service officials responsible for advertising at times share some information about lessons learned. However, there is no formal process for addressing inefficiencies and to ensure information sharing among the services. GAO found examples of possible unnecessary duplication, overlap, and fragmentation that may result from the absence of coordination. For example, the Air Force has three advertising programs that contract with three advertising agencies, but officials could not provide a rationale for requiring separate programs. In the absence of a formal process for coordination, the services may be missing opportunities to effectively leverage advertising resources.

While DOD has generally followed commercial best practices GAO identified to assess the effectiveness of advertising, DOD's components vary in their ability to determine whether their activities are generating leads for potential recruits. For example, while the Marine Corps has developed a framework to assess the effectiveness of its advertising including leads generated from advertising activities at the local level, Army officials stated they do not have reliable data to evaluate whether locally executed advertising activities are generating leads, and the Army National Guard does not require state units to report on the performance of their advertising activities. Without fully measuring advertising performance, especially at the local levels, DOD may be unable to ensure advertising dollars are used efficiently to help meet recruiting goals.

DOD does not have comprehensive oversight of the components' advertising activities; instead, DOD's components oversee their own programs. However, examples identified by GAO and others of some components paying sport teams to provide recognition ceremonies for servicemembers—a practice later deemed unacceptable by DOD—suggest that the absence of DOD oversight may have contributed to some activities of questionable appropriateness. Further, GAO observed discrepancies in how recent sports advertising guidance was being interpreted and in service officials' understanding of regulations that direct digital advertising. Without a department-wide policy that clearly defines its oversight role, DOD lacks reasonable assurance that advertising is carried out in an appropriate manner.

Examples of military service social media advertising, mobile assets for advertising, and print advertising.

Examples of military service social media advertising, mobile assets for advertising, and print advertising.

Why GAO Did This Study

As part of its efforts to meet yearly recruitment goals for the military, DOD requested almost $575 million in fiscal year 2017 to conduct advertising intended to increase awareness of military service and ultimately generate leads for potential recruits.

Senate Report 114-49 included a provision for GAO to assess DOD's advertising activities. This report examines the extent to which DOD (1) has coordinated advertising activities among the military service components, (2) has followed commercial best practices to assess the effectiveness of advertising activities, and (3) has oversight of its components' advertising activities.

GAO identified best practices for assessing the effectiveness of advertising in consultation with advertising industry experts and reviewed DOD and service policies and the most recent version of each military service components' advertising plans, from fiscal years 2014-16.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that DOD develop a formal process for coordination among its components on crosscutting advertising issues; ensure that the components fully measure the performance of advertising activities; and issue department-wide policy that, among other things, defines DOD's oversight role in advertising. DOD generally agreed with GAO's recommendations.

For more information, contact Andrew Von Ah at (213) 830-1011 or vonaha@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD concurred with this recommendation and stated in its written comments that it was developing an instruction for marketing and that this guidance would formalize coordination among the military services, which it stated should facilitate better leveraging of resources. In November 2017, DOD issued an instruction to guide the advertising efforts of the military service components. The instruction states the importance of coordination in order to obtain efficiencies and share best practices. It requires that representative from each military service components and the Joint Advertising Marketing Research and Studies office to meet quarterly to coordinate regarding ongoing advertising efforts. Additionally, the instruction requires that representatives include relevant information obtained from the component's recruiting and public affairs communities to further increase coordination. In order to address inefficiencies resulting from duplication, overlap, and fragmentation within the multiple advertising programs within the Department of the Army, the Army Guard advertising program moved under the control and oversight of the organization that performs the Army active duty and Army reserve advertising programs as of January 2017. DOD officials stated in August 2018 that the Air Force is also in discussion to determine how best to consolidate the marketing efforts of its Guard and Reserve components with the Active Duty to gain efficiencies. Specifically, the Air Force has established a Total Force Recruiting Council and one of its efforts is to oversee the creation of an integrated marketing and branding campaign plan to achieve efficiencies. DOD officials stated this effort is to continue through 2019, and as such, we will continue to monitor the progress of the Air Force in identifying opportunities to reduce fragmentation and obtain efficiencies.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, in consultation with officials from the military service components and the JAMRS office, to develop a formal process for coordination on crosscutting issues to facilitate better leveraging of resources. As part of this process, DOD could review existing advertising programs to identify opportunities to reduce unnecessary duplication, overlap, and fragmentation and obtain potential efficiencies.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD partially concurred with this recommendation. GAO's recommendation was based on its finding reported in May 2016 that while DOD has generally followed commercial best practices GAO identified to assess the effectiveness of advertising, DOD's components varied in their ability to determine whether their activities are generating leads for potential recruits. In its written comments to the report, DOD stated that it agreed with the recommendation in broad terms, and as part of the development of its instruction for marketing, it would further clarify and codify guidance related to performance measurement, but stated measurement would be broader than lead generation activities. DOD issued an instruction in November 2017 to guide its military advertising efforts. The DOD instruction requires the military services to establish a metric or metrics by which the success of a service or component's overall marketing plan or events can be measured, to include measurable goals. The metric(s) must be documented in writing, must include the rationale for its use, and must ensure the data required are readily available. DOD officials stated that these metric(s) will be used to evaluate the success of the plan or event to achieve its objective(s). DOD's issuance of guidance is significant progress towards addressing our recommendation, as the military services are required to adhere to this guidance and measure the outcomes of their advertising programs. However, we will continue to monitor the actions of the military services to adhere to DOD's guidance to develop metrics.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretaries of the Departments of the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force to ensure that each military service component fully measure advertising performance. This should include both the identification of measurable goals in future versions of the service components' advertising plans and assurance that the service components have access to the necessary performance data to determine the effectiveness of their advertising activities for lead generation activities.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred with GAO's recommendation that the department issue policy for advertising. GAO reported in May 2016 that DOD did not have comprehensive oversight of the components' advertising activities; instead, DOD's components oversaw their own programs. In its written comments, DOD stated that it is developing a DOD instruction for marketing and that this instruction would clearly define DOD's role in overseeing the advertising activities of military service components; clarify issues related to sports-related advertising; and outline procedures that should guide the components' advertising activities for other types of advertising. DOD issued an instruction in November 2017 to direct the advertising efforts of the military service components. The instruction clearly defines DOD's role in overseeing advertising activities, including broad oversight guidelines regarding marketing contracts and requirements for several reviews of contracts by appropriate authorities. The instruction sets forth clear policy for what types of sports-related advertising activities are not permissible. Further, the instruction defines the oversight and review and reporting requirements for sports-related or other types of advertising activities over a certain financial threshold and the guidelines surrounding items that appear personal in nature. The personal in nature items and financial thresholds would apply to both sports-related activities and other activities, such as concerts and other events. As DOD issued policy that sets forth clear oversight roles and clarified rules and procedures for sports-related and other advertising efforts, this recommendation has been addressed.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness to ensure, as the department undertakes its effort to issue a department-wide policy for advertising, that this policy (1) clearly defines DOD's role in overseeing the advertising activities of military service components; (2) clarifies issues related to sports-related advertising; and (3) outlines procedures that should guide the components' advertising activities for other types of advertising, such as music concerts, other event advertising, and digital advertising.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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