Pentagon Pays $400K for Marketing Platitudes

The Pentagon commissioned a “branding” study from Rand, paying $400,000 for silly marketing platitudes, according to a front page story in today’s WaPo.

The key to boosting the image and effectiveness of U.S. military operations around the world involves “shaping” both the product and the marketplace, and then establishing a brand identity that places what you are selling in a positive light, said clinical psychologist Todd C. Helmus, the author of “Enlisting Madison Avenue: The Marketing Approach to Earning Popular Support in Theaters of Operation.” The 211-page study, for which the U.S. Joint Forces Command paid the Rand Corp. $400,000, was released this week.

Helmus and his co-authors concluded that the “force” brand, which the United States peddled for the first few years of the occupation, was doomed from the start and lost ground to enemies’ competing brands. While not abandoning the more aggressive elements of warfare, the report suggested, a more attractive brand for the Iraqi people might have been “We will help you.” That is what President Bush’s new Iraq strategy is striving for as it focuses on establishing a protective U.S. troop presence in Baghdad neighborhoods, training Iraq’s security forces, and encouraging the central and local governments to take the lead in making things better.

Many of the study’s conclusions may seem as obvious as they are hard to implement amid combat operations and terrorist attacks, and Helmus acknowledged that it could be too late for extensive rebranding of the U.S. effort in Iraq. But Duane Schattle, whose urban operations office at the Joint Forces Command ordered the study, said that “cities are the battlegrounds of the future” and what has happened in Baghdad provides lessons for the future. “This isn’t just about going in and blowing things up,” Schattle said. “This is about working in a very complex environment.”

In an urban insurgency, for example, civilians can help identify enemy infiltrators and otherwise assist U.S. forces. They are less likely to help, the study says, when they become “collateral damage” in U.S. attacks, have their doors broken down or are shot at checkpoints because they do not speak English. Cultural connections — seeking out the local head man when entering a neighborhood, looking someone in the eye when offering a friendly wave — are key.

So . . . don’t shoot people you want to help you? Learn the local language? What insights! And this was only $400,000?! What a bargain!

Now, some of the examples were good ones, although I’m not sure they required a Rand study:

Worst Face Forward Rand Evil Eye Propaganda Leaflet

You’d think they’d teach that kind of thing in PsyOps school, no? Obviously, you want to send a dual message: If you’re on our side, we’ll do everything we can to help you; if you’re against us, there’s no place to hide.

Some of the suggestions, though, were a mite impractical.

Worst Face Forward Bush Hook

So, essentially, no matter where they are, American politicians should make no gestures that might be misinterpreted somewhere on the planet?

FILED UNDER: Environment, Iraq War, Military Affairs, , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Beldar says:

    Bush was waiving the “Hook ‘Em Horns” hand-sign, in that picture, at the particular minions of Satan known as the University of Texas Longhorn Band, who’d been invited to march in the inaugural parade as representatives of the State of Texas. In all probability, they’d just played “The Eyes of Texas,” which is the UT school song and, although not the official state song, much more widely known than “Texas, Our Texas.”

    With a little effort, I could find a similar picture of Reagan’s inaugural parade from 1981; by that time I was no longer in the LHB, but my fiancée still was, and she was enthusiastically returning the “sign of the devil” back at him (even though she’d voted for Jimmy Carter, sigh).

  2. Triumph says:

    The problem with the “hook em horns” sign is that it is thoroughly unconvincing coming from an Northeastern, elite Ivy League man like Bush.

    It just comes off condesending, which doesn’t play well to average Arabs who may be suspicious of Bush to begin with.

  3. Stormy70 says:

    Sorry, Triumph.

    Bush is Texan now. Midland will do that to you.

  4. James Joyner says:

    thoroughly unconvincing coming from an Northeastern, elite Ivy League man like Bush

    He didn’t go to UT, to be sure, then neither did most Longhorns fans.

    Like it or not, Bush grew up and spent most of his life in Texas.


    Bush was raised in Midland and Houston, Texas

    In May 1968 … Bush was accepted into the Texas Air National Guard … assigned to duty in Houston

    After obtaining an MBA from Harvard University, Bush entered the oil industry in Texas. In 1977, he was introduced by friends to Laura Welch, a schoolteacher and librarian. They married and settled in Midland, Texas.

    In 1978, Bush ran for the U.S. House of Representatives from the 19th Congressional District of Texas. His opponent Kent Hance portrayed Bush as being out of touch with rural Texans; Bush lost by 6,000 votes.[24] Bush returned to the oil industry, becoming a senior partner or chief executive officer of several ventures, such as Arbusto Energy,[25] Spectrum 7, and, later, Harken Energy.[26]

    Bush moved with his family to Washington, D.C. in 1988, to work on his father’s campaign for the U.S. presidency.

    Returning to Texas, Bush purchased a share in the Texas Rangers baseball franchise in April 1989, where he served as managing general partner for five years.

    Bush declared his candidacy for the 1994 Texas gubernatorial election . . . In 1998, Bush won re-election in a landslide victory with nearly 69 percent of the vote.

    So, with the exception of a few brief stints for schooling, work in political campaigns, and serving as president, Bush has spent essentially his whole life in Texas.

  5. Triumph says:

    So, with the exception of a few brief stints for schooling, work in political campaigns, and serving as president, Bush has spent essentially his whole life in Texas.

    No one disputes that–the reason it is unconvincing is that it is a gesture associated with a public university that he never went to. It has the effect of eliding his own privileged background. Bush shouldn’t be faulted for his blueblood heritage. It tells something about his character, however, that he tries to deny that part of his identity through empty gestures like this.

    Barack Obama has spent most of his adult life in Illinois–but if he marched in the Chicago St. Patrick’s Day parade wearing a Chief Illiniwek headress, people would rightfully dismiss the effort as inauthentic political pandering coming from an Ivy League man.

    The fact that Bush consistently runs from his Ivy League, blue blood roots contributes to his untrustworthiness in many peoples’ eyes.

  6. Beldar says:

    One of his daughters, Jenna, is a UT-Austin graduate, fer Pete’s sake. I think he can make a Hook ‘Em Horns sign without giving us grounds to go all Freudian.

  7. Triumph says:

    I think he can make a Hook ‘Em Horns sign without giving us grounds to go all Freudian.

    I would disagree about the need for analyzing people in power from a psychological perspective.

    Remember, many of the elements of his character–lack of curiousity, intransigent “loyality,” his determination to prove himself to his father by “righting” the old man’s failures in Iraq–have all contributed to a disastorous presidency.

    The genius of Bush was his ability to spin these questionable characteristics into positives in order to convince people to vote for him.

    As we approach 2008, it is important to exert a bit more scriutny on the candidates’ psyche.

  8. Beldar says:

    Here’s a link, btw, to another of many photos of Dubya giving a “Hook ‘Em,” this one during his rainy 2001 inaugural parade, with a couple of Longhorn Band trombone players visible at the bottom as they passed by the (glassed in) reviewing stands.

    The LHB also played at Lady Bird Johnson’s funeral last week (she was a UT grad and former UT System regent):

    Members of the University of Texas Longhorn Band finished off the service with a rousing rendition of the “Eyes of Texas,” complete with many in the crowd of about 1,800 making the university’s “hook ’em horns” sign with their fingers.

    And here’s a couple of links to pix of Laura Bush flashing a “Hook ‘Em” at the services, next to other dignitaries. Lady Bird would have vigorously approved, I’m quite sure.

    All very Satanic. (If you’re a Texas A&M fan.)

  9. Beldar says:

    Okay, Triumph, I’m persuaded. Just a few questions:

    (1) When you write, “candidates’ psyche” — plural candidates, singular psyche — are you going all Jung on us?

    (2) With respect to Dubya’s “disastorous presidency,” would you say we also need to “exert a bit more scriutny” on his misspellings and malapropisms (a/k/a Bushisms)? (Or was that, like, an allusion to the Astor family, and their exclusion from modern politics? I’m trying to track your nuances here.)

    (3) And isn’t this all, really, a plot by the Masons, along with the Skull & Bones society? Is the Holy Grail involved somehow, and Mona Lisa’s smile? Oh man! That would explain so much!

    I’m glad I read this post!

  10. Dave Schuler says:

    I would like to rise in defense of the current crop of presidential candidates, both Republican and Democratic. I genuinely believe that Democratic presidential candidates have more than a single psyche and that Republican presidential candidates have more than a single psyche.

    I’m not prepared to produce an exact number of how many individual psyches are involved, howevever.

  11. Tano says:

    …”a more attractive brand for the Iraqi people might have been “We will help you.” ”

    I guess Republicans have come a long way from the mocking reference to “I’m from the [US] government and I’m here to help”…