Monday, August 17, 2015

Ads against the enemy

Some years ago I posted an essay on the war we’re engaged in and on approaches to countering enemy propaganda. I still judge the war to be a religious war, and some of the traditional VOA paradigms are useless at best, and the ubiquitous Western media tends to injure our cause more than help us.

I didn’t address the capabilities of our amazingly effective advertising propaganda industry. Surely we can, with all the psychological research and experience and tools at our disposal, out-do Daesh propaganda.

Our ad experts can’t just translate their ads into Arabic, though. We’d need people thoroughly versed in Arabic literature and poetry and history in its various flavors, who understand how people in one tribe view others just as a good ad man knows how to pitch a beer ad in Wisconsin by lightly mocking “metrosexuals.”

This isn’t the acquisition of a year’s study.

Should the goal be to make Daesh look stupid, or nasty, or hypocritical—or some combination? Given their actions any or all of these should be possible for a sophisticated team. The other side of the question is “What do you want to hold up as the proper ideal?” I don’t know that we have a lot of choice in that: you have to work with the urges you find in the population, not those you wish they had. I still think the “House of Fruit” approach would be useful. But the ads will probably tend to encourage more, not less, tribal behavior to counter the appeal of a new caliphate. And they won’t tend to increase sales of US products—might be fewer. This won’t endear them to the usual suspects in State. Nor will it tend to encourage them to become Christian—and I for one want them to.

Of course, the effort could not have any official connections whatever—it would have to appear entirely indigenous. A whiff of Western support would be the kiss of death.

Suppose there were some adults in the room, and this was actually attempted as a news source. What would it look like? To maintain its credibility it would oppose the US and Israel. It would try to maintain a reputation for accuracy. If it were regional, it would try to have local outlets tailored for different markets. Funding would be transparently local. And the overall thrust would be against centralization under would-be caliphs. Does Al Jazeera do this (in Arabic, not English)? No, I don’t believe it to be American-funded—DC can’t keep secrets.

Black propaganda anti-Daesh videos are hard to imagine—the group is so far out there that only accusations of hypocrisy would seem to work—and those would not discourage other would-be caliphs. I’d think that nominal amateur news videos could be inserted into the stream with good plausibility. Do we see anything like this? (I don’t, obviously...) There are videos out there; are they effective with the target audiences?


Mark Reiff said...

Personally, when I had a satellite feed I always found Al Jezeera English to be one of the best news sources out there for international coverage. They were better informed than the US news sources, and less anti-western than the BBC. I don't know if the locals in their target regions actually pay attention though, or if they see them the way I see MSNBC.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Mark, that's a fascinating take.