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How would you sell America to the Muslim World? Three Top U.S. Agency Executives Weigh In.
December 21, 2001 12:46 AM   Subscribe

How would you sell America to the Muslim World? Three Top U.S. Agency Executives Weigh In. Their responses really are inspired. Jim Ferguson (creator of 'Brand Bush') tops the bill with, ‘a lot of it is like selling soap.’ In another Ad Age special the important question of ‘Should American values be marketed to Muslim Nations?’ is discussed. Their answer is yes, I scream, NO! God, it can’t be long before we here calls for a marketing crusade. Please, can someone stop the advertising industry getting involved. This isn't Coke.
posted by RobertLoch (26 comments total)

 
Wow these people are clueless. Sell America abroad like the exact way you sell it domestically, "Get rich now, ask me how!"
posted by skallas at 1:29 AM on December 21, 2001


I wonder if the target audience has to be sufficiently wealthy for this to work well. If you're living in a community so poor that the only education is via the free school run by fundamentalists, you're probably not going to be watching that much American TV, or reading that many glossy magazines.

In other words, this could be self-fulfilling, in that it's only going to work when people are sufficiently wealthy that they start believing in the capitalist way anyway...
posted by andrew cooke at 1:32 AM on December 21, 2001


What a pugnacious, ethically-benighted publication. Never once did either of those articles/features refer to the dignity of a populace ravaged by the commercialization of *everything*. They're simply a market to be tapped, susceptible to adthink just like the rest of us. And making no bones about it too. I'm still fighting off a bout of the shudders.
posted by crasspastor at 1:46 AM on December 21, 2001


this is what's going to make me break my string of over 14 years without vomiting come to an end (knock on wood).
posted by wantwit at 1:51 AM on December 21, 2001


The arrogance of these pieces, while wholy unsurprising, leaves me feeling disgusted.



You know...maybe they don't want American culture rammed down their throats, maybe that's part of the damn problem.
posted by jackiemcghee at 3:50 AM on December 21, 2001


Sell Democracy (if we can find it for our own country) and all will follow--branding, commercialization, and the right to tell ad execs to fuck off.
posted by Postroad at 5:14 AM on December 21, 2001


Ferguson's responses seemed really stupid and potentially offensive to the target audience, but I'm not sure why people think this is such a bad idea in the abstract. This isn't about lies or exaggerations designed to sell a bottle of Pledge; hopefully this won't even be about selling a fuzzy, feel-good impression of America -- "American Values" aren't just the right to go clubbing and see Boogie Nights; it's also things like democracy, the rule of law, and religious freedom. Focusing on the children of America and the lives of Muslims in the U.S. seems like an excellent place to start.



Trying to craft a truthful, "white" propaganda message to explain what America is and why America is up to what it's up to in the Middle East as a deliberate attempt to counteract anti-American propaganda seems smart to me. Given the amount of misinformation floating through the region about even something like the WTC attack, I think there's merit in trying to get the other side of the story disseminated.



If it works, it leads to a less poisoned atmosphere. Perhaps it leads to fewer terrorists and less bloodshed. If it doesn't work... What, cynical members of Generation X in Cairo and Medina will make fun of us? Brand America won't be hip and cool? We'll have paid some untalented hack to write dumb commercials? Those don't seem like major downsides.
posted by snarkout at 5:26 AM on December 21, 2001


Don't wish to be too contrarian here - but maybe there is a valid point. Modern warfare is no longer made up entirely of military force - a good deal of it is pure public relations and perception. From one point of view bin Laden & others have been, for a good number of years, engaged in a determined (and extremely successful) PR campaign - that has been completely unanswered by the US. America is now widely viewed as "the Great Satan" in many Islamic circles (quite a catchy and successful branding effort).



While the article itself provokes distaste - the concept of engaging those who blew the WTC to bits (and others that would like to blow other things to bits) on the battlefield of public perception may not only be a good idea, it may actually be necessary.
posted by MidasMulligan at 5:36 AM on December 21, 2001


I think we should just let all them foreigners compete in contests of endurance to win a chance at visiting our great country.
posted by ph00dz at 6:14 AM on December 21, 2001


This isn't Coke



Actually, it is. Because 99% of the lunacy we see in the Muslim world, from Afghanistan to Algeria, passing through the West Bank, is little more than poorly-educated, and even more so, POOR exploited people. Get people wealth, and they will not be fanatics.

Yes, Yes, I know that doesn't account for UBL (or is it OBL?), or McVeigh, or Manson, but I said 99%.
posted by ParisParamus at 6:42 AM on December 21, 2001


Actually, it is. Because 99% of the lunacy we see in the Muslim world, from Afghanistan to Algeria, passing through the West Bank, is little more than poorly-educated, and even more so, POOR exploited people. Get people wealth, and they will not be fanatics.



I'd say that repressive regimes that don't allow political dissent except as channeled through radicalized Islam have a fair amount to do with it, too, and that's one of the places where an American propaganda campaign might break down.
posted by snarkout at 6:46 AM on December 21, 2001


The Coke thought is interesting, at the very least it creates a more inviting target than embassies etc...The maoists who just started creating trouble in Nepal a month or so ago, bombed the coke factory there to garner some publicity in the western media and they did to some extent, in India in the 70's coke was the first company banned and sent packing, which gave George Fernandes, then a union leader, now the countries Defence Minister a whole helluva lot of publicity...and to think coke costs more than gas in this country(US), what does that say about the oil situation...
posted by bittennails at 7:35 AM on December 21, 2001


At least these folks are honest that they are MARKETING, as opposed to the US government, which is presenting itself as TRUTHFUL. I am really, really fed up with spin being presented as truth (e.g., selective editing of the recent Osama tape and transcript). Either the Bush administration knows they are being deceptive, or they are really, really stupid.
posted by yesster at 7:44 AM on December 21, 2001


Well, the American advertsing industry has been pretty damn successful at selling the virtues of many American "products", including Coke, Nike, Disney, and Boeing, to name a few. This would work.



And what really is wrong with "selling America"? Do you actually believe in some sort of absolute "truth" about our culture, or any culture? How quaint--how naive.



Since well before 9-11 our survival has been at stake here, and we need to use every tool at our disposal to ensure that we continue to live and prosper. If that means manipulating the "truth" about America, or countering the propoganda spewed by Al Jezeera, or newspapers in Islamabad, or Bahgdad, or wherever--SOUNDS GOOD TO ME. A few billion spent on good PR about America could work wonders.



To those with such a visceral reaction against this--really, why? I don't get what your problem is here. Do you really want people from other countries to hate us and bomb our cities? Now that attitude makes me want to vomit.
posted by mooncrow at 7:46 AM on December 21, 2001


I don't see the problem. The Islamic extremists have basically sold the brand of "America Is Evil", why not fight back in the media sphere?
posted by owillis at 7:49 AM on December 21, 2001


'To those with such a visceral reaction against this--really, why? I don't get what your problem is here. Do you really want people from other countries to hate us and bomb our cities? Now that attitude makes me want to vomit.'



It reminds me of Dotcom marketing; clowns trying to come up with quick fixes. The whole pretence is is also arrogant. Imagine if Russia launched a campaign to impose their values on the US; oh yeah, they did and everyone that was vaguely suspected of being involved was locked up.



Given the low levels of crime in muslim countries, it might be an idea to suggest that they start exporting their values this way. The muslim family unit is also a great deal stronger that the Western equivalent; should they export that too?



Arrogance and ignorance; a dangerous combination.
posted by RobertLoch at 9:08 AM on December 21, 2001


To those with such a visceral reaction against this--really, why? I don't get what your problem is here. Do you really want people from other countries to hate us and bomb our cities? Now that attitude makes me want to vomit.

Hmm, could be that part of the reason, it seems, that they hate us and bomb our cities, is because they already see us as a manipulative, soul-less, lie-embracing, schlock-peddling empire, who assumes, like you seem to, that the rest of the world is made up of ignorant morons who are ours to use as we see fit. Giving them more of the same reasons to hate us may not be such a brilliant idea.
posted by bingo at 10:40 AM on December 21, 2001


Given the low levels of crime in muslim countries, it might be an idea to suggest that they start exporting their values this way. The muslim family unit is also a great deal stronger that the Western equivalent; should they export that too?

Good idea. I'm going to go outside now and tell women that they must cover themselves head to toe, lest they get beaten.
posted by jbelshaw at 10:58 AM on December 21, 2001


You know what, this whole discussion is flawed. There is no need selling america to the muslims ? As is there no need to sell America to other people around the world, regardless of faith.

Muslim youth is just like youth here. We enjoy our hollywood and get the dirt on it from tabloids E!. We also get our MTV and Channel V. We read, learn, hear about things going on in America all the time. How do you think we know more about America than some Americans ???

In Lahore, my town in Pakistan, we dress American, we try to follow American work ethic at our offices, heck if its not too much bother our taste buds, we even go to TGI Fridays, or Pizza Hut, or KFC !!!

The point is there is no need to sell America on these terms. No one I know has any thing against the American people or American way of life. People like me who have left their homes and traveled half way around the world to America have come here FOR the same way of life. We have revolted against the way of our elders.

But these dreamers of the American dream outside USA need to be sold a different idea. The idea that the American Government is also as freedom loving and sweet and caring and generous as the American people.

Thats what needs to be sold. And Gerorge Dubya Bush isnt the man to do so. His last name is Bush.
posted by adnanbwp at 11:09 AM on December 21, 2001


May the best meme win....
posted by rushmc at 12:19 PM on December 21, 2001


if Russia launched a campaign to impose their values on the US; oh yeah, they did and everyone that was vaguely suspected of being involved was locked up.

Except that American/Western economic and democratic values are superior. The campaign being envisioned need consist no more than presenting said values; penetrating the wall of media control at issue. It's the difference between beaming Radio Moscow into a target country (circa 1975); and beaming the American networks into a country. Making information, and yes, entertainment, available is all that's needed.

May the best meme win--EXACTLY. Show them the memes, and they will abandon their 13th Century ways.
posted by ParisParamus at 12:42 PM on December 21, 2001


'Good idea. I'm going to go outside now and tell women that they must cover themselves head to toe, lest they get beaten.'

Yeah and that's an accurate representation of the Muslim world. I presume by your logic that all Americans are mormons, all Irish are terrorists, and all Germans are neo nazis.
posted by RobertLoch at 12:47 PM on December 21, 2001


'Except that American/Western economic and democratic values are superior.'

Changing economic and democratic values is not something that is only achieved by altering public opinion, it is achieved at a diplomatic/political level as well. The West is not attempting any changes in respect to Muslim countries that have oil, and is in fact doing the reverse. How does that fit into this campaign?

I wonder how many people that comment, be it in papers, on the news, etc. actually have any real knowledge of the Muslim world. The statements made by these 3 'advertising gurus' are ignorant. It is as simple as that.
posted by RobertLoch at 1:05 PM on December 21, 2001


on Marketing: HHGTTG:

Ford Prefect: "What the hell is that?"

Marketing Genius: "It's a wheel."

FP: "You call that a wheel!"

MG: "If you're so smart, then you tell me what color it should be."

(gross paraphrase, but still dead nuts)
posted by yesster at 1:10 PM on December 21, 2001


The truth is that capitalism, per se, has few problems being accepted in the world of Islam. Arabs are notoriously dogged traders from time immemorial. There is, perhaps, a little too much of the Lexus and the Olive Tree division here. Islam has no trouble accepting Coca Cola and (halal) Big Macs, not to mention cell phones and Lexuses. In other words, most of the worries in this thread have been anti-capitalist hand-wringing: But will they like having our products shoved down their throats? Sure, and many of them will gladly join in the shoving. It's not the detritus of consumer culture that offend the terrorists who target Americans. They say it's our foreign policy, but in many cases -- certainly the Saudis on 9/11 -- it appears as much to be a protest over their own country's rule. We need not back down, need not appease such unjust protests; but a different approach may be used.

The missing links, in the Islamic world and the Arab world especially, are not so much consumer products, but true, free-market capitalism, rather than crony economies (especially in the oil-rich states) and quasi-command economies (in some of the secular ones, like Egypt, Syria, and Iraq). The capitalism comes first, along with human rights, as building blocks for modern societies. Later we can prod for democracy. At the moment, however, the economic dislocation, the populations soaring faster than jobs can ever be created, the political suffocation of Arab peoples count for far more and breed the religious extremism which keeps the dictators from relaxing their rule. This is the blueprint laid down by Fareed Zakaria in How to Save the Arab World; and Zakaria -- a former editor of Foreign Affairs -- a Hindu from South Asia, understands a bit about how countries pull themselves up by bootstraps.
posted by dhartung at 5:09 PM on December 21, 2001


Fareed Zakaria is a Muslim. Please stand notified.
posted by adnanbwp at 5:37 PM on December 27, 2001


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