The Battle For Market Share:
Good Vs. Evil?
Still, if Middle Eastern "consumers" are angry about a product -- whether it's Coca-Cola or America's foreign policy -- how can we turn them around?
Ambassador Rugh recommends recruiting lay ambassadors: "It's very powerful when an American Muslim stands up in front of a Saudi audience and says, 'You know, America may look to you like a nonreligious society, a society hostile to Islam, but I can tell you, having lived there, that Americans are open and respectful of religion, including Islam.' "
Rugh suggests pro-U.S. propaganda can't come only from Americans. In regard to our broadcasting efforts, he says, the old "Letter From America" approach -- from the BBC's Alistair Cooke, syndicated around the world for more than 50 years -- should be emulated. "There ought to be an Arab Alistair Cooke broadcasting in Arabic every day," he says.
In a way, Charlotte Beers's most serious challenge may be to persuade the administration to temper its own reductive language regarding the region. Saatchi's McNeel, for instance, cites President Bush's "You're either with us or you're with the terrorists" line as particularly troublesome. "A lot of countries in the region, even a country like Pakistan, which has made a bold decision to be in the Western camp in the fight against terrorism, are walking a very fine line and wouldn't by any means want to send out a signal saying, 'Okay, now we're on the side of the U.S.'
"The authors of the events of September 11 clearly had as one of their main objectives to polarize moderate Arabs, to polarize moderate Muslims around the world to fall more resolutely into the anti-American camp." If you're not with us, you're against us plays into that.
Ultimately, McNeel agrees with Ambassador Rugh -- that if we have any hope of success in the propaganda war, it has to be fought from within the Middle East by Middle Easterners. "The campaign has to involve respected Muslim figures from the region. They need to be recruited in such a way that it's representative of their values and their convictions. There's been a lot of talk about how un-Islamic the acts of September 11 were, and I think that is a clear angle of attack that has to be brought across much more clearly."
That Was Then. This is Now.
"The State Department has taken the view that to know us is to love us," spokesman Richard Boucher told Advertising Age in more innocent times (in April). It's hard to imagine that sort of guileless statement coming out of the State Department today. Strangely, though, similar refrains are still coming from the White House.
"How do I respond," President Bush asked at a recent press conference, "when I see that in some Islamic countries there is vitriolic hatred for America? I'll tell you how I respond: I'm amazed. I'm amazed that there is such misunderstanding of what our country is about, that people would hate us. I am, I am -- like most Americans, I just can't believe it. Because I know how good we are, and we've got to do a better job of making our case."
Beers, for her part, seems to be busy managing expectations. Testifying before Congress, she recently characterized the propaganda war's goal as reaching young people. "It's the battle for the 11-year-old mind," she said, sounding ominously like someone who has decided that the 12-and-over demographic may already be a lost cause.