With a new administration, the military has new recruitment goals. And the goals aren’t based on “end strength” numbers alone. The Army plans on increasing diversity in its ranks to reflect more accurately the shifting demographics of the U.S.
This push for more diversity coincides with a shrinking number of eligible recruits.
We’ve addressed how the Army released a new campaign and increased their programmatic advertising this year, but how has the Army adjusted their advertising approach across other formats?
The Army Needs to Expand its Recruitment Pool
The U.S. Army has had increasing difficulty recruiting new soldiers over the past few years due to a variety of reasons.
There is a smaller pool of young, eligible Americans who want to serve in the U.S. military. Only 2% of Americans between 17 and 24 are qualified, want to serve and have strong academic standing. This number has been decreasing over time and recruiting people who don’t have family ties to the military proves difficult.
It doesn’t help that public attitudes towards the military have shifted over the last several years.
Historically, conservative voters have tended to trust the military than voters left of center. This changed under the last administration. With President Trump’s scathing remarks towards top generals and conservative news show hosts and politicians’ criticism of the “woke” U.S. military, Republicans have fallen “out of love” with the U.S. military.
“Enough is enough. We won’t let our military fall to woke ideology,” tweeted Representative Dan Crenshaw, a Republican from Texas who is a former Navy SEAL. Other conservative pundits like Ted Cruz, Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham have made similar comments or tweets this year.
In 2020, voters on military bases moved toward the democratic party by eight points when the general population moved by only two. Veteran PACs have forcefully fought back against Fox news hosts with advertising. One Veteran PAC railed against Tucker Carlson’s commentary on women in the military.
One of the latest changes to VA policies now allow LGBTQ+ veterans who were given other-than-honorable discharges under the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell benefits that they were previously denied. This update was announced as part of the ten year commemoration of the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.
Tensions running high, recruitment is difficult
This strain between public commentators and the military has made recruitment even more difficult than it already was amid a pandemic and a time of racial reckoning.
“We’re in a pretty challenging recruiting environment right now,” said Brig. Gen. Patrick Michaelis, deputy commanding general of U.S. Army Recruiting Command. “It is because of the effects of COVID, [and] because of the effects of the political discourse and the discussions going on in our country today.”
The military tries to remain apolitical, but in a time when nearly everything is perceived politically, that is quite the challenge. More and more recruits come from the same regions and from military families.
“A widening military-civilian divide increasingly impacts our ability to effectively recruit and sustain the force,” Anthony M. Kurta, acting under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness, told the National Commission on Military, National and Public Service last year. “This disconnect is characterized by misperceptions, a lack of knowledge and an inability to identify with those who serve. It threatens our ability to recruit the number of quality youth with the needed skill sets to maintain our advantage.”
To help with this disconnect, the Army created an animated ad campaign, The Calling, showcasing the stories of five real service members, including an immigrant from Haiti, a second-generation American and a woman raised by two mothers. All of the service members had different reasons for joining the Army.
As the military tries to expand their recruitment pool and the diversity of new members, what other advertising strategies are taking place?
Even though the Army released The Calling campaign, for the most part the Army’s creative messaging has surprisingly remained fairly traditional. If increasing diversity of recruits is one of the Army’s goals, we don’t necessarily see it in the majority of the advertising creative.
Overall, the US Army has invested $61.8 million into TV, digital and print advertising so far this year. This is down 23% compared to the same time period last year.
This decrease in spend is felt mainly in digital—down 53% year-over-year from $31.7 million in 2020. Print is also down 69% from $1.8 million in 2020.
In 2020, there were more recruitment advertisements in industry publications, encouraging readers to enhance their career path by joining the Army.
In both 2020 and 2021, the U.S. Army advertised in: The New England Journal of Medicine, Internal Medicine News, Current Psychiatry, Dentaltown and others.
Advertising in regional magazines made up 20% of print advertising from the U.S. Army in 2020. In 2021, this grew to 34%. New placements in regional magazines include advertising in hunting and fishing publications from Connecticut, Alabama and Georgia. This suggests that though print advertising has decreased, the target audience for these placements is in more rural communities.
TV advertising is flat year-over-year at $46.36 million (up 1%). Messaging this year is similar to that from 2020, but the audiences they are targeting using this format differ.
By the number of airings, in 2020, the top networks of air commercials from the Army were: CBS Sports Network, SyFy Channel, UniMas, ESPN, ESPN2, and Paramount Networks.
By spend, these networks account for 33% of advertising.
This year, the top networks airing the most spots for the US Army are BET, Univision, TVOne, ESPN and SyFy.
Spend from these networks also accounts for 33% of ad spend, though the target audience is noticeably different.
With a dwindling pool of eligible recruits and an increasingly diverse population, the military is trying to increase diversity—but it’s not always through advertising messaging. Though the Army did use some creative messaging for this with The Calling campaign, other branches are promoting more women and people of color to leadership and placing people from diverse backgrounds in recruitment positions.
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