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Why Madison Avenue Together With Silicon Valley Might Be Better than Carpet Bombing Against ISIS, But Is Still Not an Easy Answer

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I watched last night's Republican presidential candidate debate both as a concerned citizen and as a professional in the field of branding. After it was over I turned it off, concerned from both perspectives. Given recent world events, the hot topic was, of course, ISIS and national security. There were lots of soundbites relative to solutions, just as there have been soundbites coming from the other side of the political aisle.

These solutions range from carpet bombing, to shutting down the Internet, to propaganda campaigns employing Madison Avenue and Silicon Valley's best.

While I am not a military expert, I've been in the branding trenches for many years, so can talk to the merit of these possible solutions with a greater degree of authority, specifically using communication and marketing strategies as a way to change peoples' hearts and minds. I can tell you this is the most challenging aspect of the profession. I've worked with companies trying to get consumers to switch their brands of beer and toothpaste. I've worked with corporations whose reputations have been tarnished and have had to take on the hard job of rebuilding trust with their constituents. I've worked with non-profit organizations looking to convince people to make them their philanthropy of choice.

These initiatives are nothing compared to getting those with a fierce allegiance to ISIS to change their core beliefs and behavior. Its propaganda machine and its target market are extreme in every sense of the word.

What we will need to do to have any effect in this area bears no resemblance to the branding days of yore. Much as there is no short-term military action like the D-Day maneuver that turned the tide in World War II, there is no short-term communication initiative that will turn the tide.
This is not a case of creating an emotional advertising campaign, people of all ages and races together on a mountaintop, holding hands and confirming that with a Coke and smile they can teach the world to sing in perfect harmony- It is not a case of "Wag the Dog," a movie that portrayed Hollywood and Washington getting together to create, yes, a movie to divert public attention from a less than scrupulous president.

Just as so many other things have changed, so has media and its consumption. You can't force an audience to watch or read what they don't want to watch or read. They get media when, where and how they want it. That said, this is not a situation in which a quick social media campaign, a carpet bombing of Facebook pages and tweets, will do the trick. Yes, social media can play a vital role in unifying citizens and organizing in massive efforts. We saw it during the protests in Cairo against then-president Hosni Mubarak's oppressive regime. We saw it during the Occupy Wall Street movement. But those communication efforts were reactive and relatively short-lived.

From my perspective, my branding perspective, that is, if we are going to get Madison Avenue and Silicon Valley together to help turn the tide in our battle with ISIS, we must do two things. First, take a long-term view. Look at this as a marathon, not a sprint. Then, we must control the narrative to every extent possible.

It's not a matter of a few cyber-geeks playing cyber warfare. We must tell our story in a consistent, credible and riveting manner, calling on those who are masters of content creation, and take a systematic and relentless approach to our communication efforts. The hearts and minds of those we want to change are hard and steadfast. A Herculean task, for sure, but if we can move the needle in any way, it just might be worth the effort. For now, I remain a concerned citizen.

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