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