Sunday, January 04, 2009

Israel Finally Spins it Right

Years ago, when someone asked me what would be my dream client for branding, I responded in an instant: "Lebanon." I'd get this quizzical look, followed by the response, "Really? What do they make?" I was, of course, talking about the country of Lebanon, which was -- and still is -- perfectly positioned for re-branding. The last three generations only know cities like Beirut as bombed-out, war-torn spoils infested with terrorists. But there was a time when Beirut was the jewel of the Mediterranean.

Lots of potential there. Unfortunately, lots of radical militants, too, so the assignment still hasn't arrived in my In Box.

I bring this up because since that conversation, the whole Middle East situation has become increasingly influenced by media spin. Sure, there's always been war propaganda, but most of the previous stuff was limited to direct disinformation: leaflet bombings and radio broadcasts aimed mostly at demoralizing enemy combatants. Today, it's a whole different story. Thanks to technology, enemies no longer need focus on soldiers on the battlefield, or even the innocent citizens through whose neighborhoods those soldiers patrol. They simply create and post their cases to the internet for everyone to see.

Without question, the masters of internet spin have been radical muslim and Palestinian militants. Forget your politics. I don't care which side of the conflict you support. The fact is that a tiny, almost microscopic faction has succeeded in tweaking the planet's nose and spinning its case so successfully as to dominate world attention for their cause.

That's good news for the power of the internet. Bad news if you don't know how to spin it for yourself.

The genius of radical muslim and Palestinian militants has not been limited to their use of the internet alone. It begins with an amazing use of tools like Photoshop and video editing tools, giving them the ability to control the tone, message and apparent legitimacy of their data -- sometimes altering the data to accommodate their own viewpoints. Beyond that, they are fast with their tools. They flood the air waves and web sites with instantly downloadable clips that are easy for people to pass along -- never bothering to check the veracity of what they download.

That's pretty slick. And effective. Because the combination of tools and tactics gives the radical muslim and Palestinian militant movements that critical air of transparency that unknowing and unsophisticated folks accept as truth. And before you jump all over me for appearing biased, let me just say that I know everyone does it. I'm just lauding the guys who do it best.

Well, let me take some of that back. Everyone doesn't do it. Take Israel, for example. For decades, the Israelis have won the ground and air battles, but lost the propaganda wars because they continued to shroud their tactics in secrecy, opening up only when pressed hard to do so by the public. This tactic has kept Israel on the defensive for years, playing a defensive strategy in the media and world courts.

No more. Israel has finally wised up. With the retaliatory responses in Gaza, Israel has pro-actively made its case to the world on the web and everywhere else. And it's working. With hours of its actions, the Israel Defense Forces post videos of raids on YouTube, pre-empting any Palestinian rumors, myths or charges before they can be broadcast. The Israeli Defense Ministry has even gone so far as to create its own Twitter accounts, in order to respond to anyone, anywhere, any time.

Sort of like knocking out your boxing opponent during the referee's instructions.

Look, I'm just a branding consultant. And Consultant's Hell is defined as "supplying answers to clients who never implement them." Someone has given Israel the answers and Israel has finally listened.

Anyone have Lebanon's phone number?


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