Thursday, November 18, 2010

Culture: Why Not Market to Potential Terrorists?

TORONTO, ONTARIO - This blog has spent a rather substantial number of electrons contemplating the "emotional world" nature of culture in the United States, including the primacy of marketing in that culture. The country has favored VHS over Beta, extreme politicians over centrists, Windows over OS/2 or MacOS, and brand names over generics not because they were better products, but because their marketing was more aggressive or simply more effective.

Yet, when it comes to the task of selling the culture itself as something to be respected or at least left alone, instead of an object for destruction, marketing suddenly takes a back seat. Military action (and the threat thereof) has been the preferred mode for defending the country against mostly Islamist extremists who profess the desire to destroy the United States and have been identified by most analysts as the greatest threat to the country's future.

Marketing to Osama Bin Laden and committed members of Al Qaeda is likely fruitless, but at some level they're not the long-term problem. The real problems are young potential recruits for Al Qaeda and similar groups who need to choose whether to devote their lives to an organization dedicated to destruction, or live their lives as most of the rest of the world does, without a focus on violence. If nobody wants to give up their lives for Al Qaeda, then it won't have enough people to pose a long-term existential threat to the United States.

By choosing military action as the principal means of containing terrorist organizations, the United States has taken actions that have included substantial collateral damage, making the victims of that damage more amenable to becoming terrorists. The more known enemies have been eliminated, the more potential enemies have been created, in too many cases.

The best marketing minds in the world operate in the United States. They should be enlisted to come up with campaigns to present how Muslims are integrated into American society, how Islam and the US Constitution are aligned, and how the United States is not a threat to a young man in a place like Yemen or Afghanistan. It should go beyond rhetoric. There ought to be viral marketing campaigns, "astroturfing," "walking around money" and other more covert and subtle techniques used.

American marketing firms can sell tap water for $3 a bottle even if they can't quite sell ice to the Eskimos. It seems hard for me to believe that they cannot be a much stronger component of efforts to contain terrorism by convincing young people that it isn't in their interest.

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