Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Selling America's Image in the World

In the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks a program was launched. A high powered advertising executive from New York City was hired to lead an advertising campaign to "brand" America, to project a positive image of America to the world, and specifically the Middle East.

The unspoken assumption must have been "they attacked us because they have a wrong impression of us, so let's change their perception of the U.S.". Denial takes many forms, doesn't it? In my view that attack wasn't an attack specifically on the U.S., but on Globalization, the World Trade Center having been seen as a major symbol of globalization, and it's effective headquarters. For someone to make such an attack, yes, there is an issue of their perception of the ones they are attacking, but is the message to the recipient soley that the other party is at fault? Or should the recipient of the attack also question themselves, look to themselves to see what's inside them which could have instigated the attack, and worked to change those things as well?

In any case, here's an interview of the authors of the book "Weapons of Mass Deception: The Uses of Propaganda in Bush's War on Iraq", covering this propoganda campaign launched by the U.S. to sway opinion in the Middle East. The campaign failed miserably.

[Sep 29, 2003; Salon.COM; salon.com/news/feature/2003/09/30/deception/index.html] War is peace! It seemed like an auspicious debut: The new magazine Hi was just off the presses and it generated heavy buzz. It was glossy. It was young. It was fresh and hip and just a little bit sexy. The multimillion-dollar launch across 14 countries got headlines worldwide. And for the U.S. State Department that seemed to be good news, because Hi is a government publication issued to win hearts and minds in the Arab and Muslim world.

... In "Weapons of Mass Deception: The Uses of Propaganda in Bush's War in Iraq," co-authors Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber explain why efforts like Hi have almost inevitably failed. "The United States lost the propaganda war a long time ago," Rampton told Salon, citing the wisdom of an Arab-American news executive. "They could have the prophet Mohammed doing their public relations, and it wouldn't help."

... "Weapons of Mass Deception" is a readable, witty, fact-filled catalog of the U.S. government's attempts to counter the tide of anti-U.S. sentiment that the Bush administration abruptly discovered in the Muslim world after Sept. 11, 2001. It starts with the story of Charlotte Beers, former chairwoman and CEO of two of the world's top ad agencies, J. Walter Thompson and Ogilvy & Mather. She was hired after 9/11, as Colin Powell explained, "to change from just selling the U.S. ... to really branding foreign policy."

Efforts like these eventually cost $1 billion a year. Where did the money go?

... "Branding America"? What does "branding" mean, in regards to a country?

Rampton: Charlotte Beers was an expert in "brand management." Branding, in general, is the idea of getting people to associate emotional values with the product or idea you're trying to sell.

This is what advertisers are always saying in one form or another. "Sell the sizzle, not the steak." They try to get you to buy an automobile, not because it is a form of transportation, but because it makes you feel powerful. Or it makes you feel sexy. They try to sell things on the basis of these emotional reactions that they're trying to get you to develop.

... One of the ironies here is that a critical reader, a critical thinker, someone who really wants to see what's going on here -- reading mainstream sources like the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Guardian, and listening to the BBC -- could come to the same conclusions that we did. But that's not where most Americans get their news. Most Americans get their news from television, which is probably the worst single source for providing factual information and analysis.