Buy One Armed Intervention, Get the Second Free!

Bush-horns.jpg

As if looking to get mocked on blogs, the RAND Corporation has released a study which, according to the accompanying press release, "RECOMMENDS U.S. MILITARY ADOPT CONSUMER MARKETING STRATEGIES TO REACH IRAQI AND AFGHAN CIVILIANS." My first thought was that we could start deploying brand loyalty cards like they have at CVS or the grocery store. By asking civilians in occupied countries to swipe their card each time US forces come to their assistance (in exchange for free MREs, maybe), we could learn more about the circumstances under which civilians feel threatened by insurgent attacks.

Alternatively, a colleague suggests we might let the Iraqis into the PXs, where they can redeem their bonus points from various transactions -- checkpoint searches, midnight interrogations, etc. -- thus softening the blow of humiliating foreign occupation. Soothing muzak could be used during operations. The jokes write themselves. Be that as it may, flipping randomly through the full document I hit upon a perfectly decent point, namely that we need to be more sensitive about how different messages play in different contexts.

One example was that this White House photo of Bush giving the "hook 'em horns" salute to the Texas marching band seems endearing in the United States. In Norway, however, Bush was taken to be a Satanist. What's more, people in Mediterranean and some Latin American countries "saw the President indicating that someone’s wife was unfaithful (that they were cuckolded and had 'grown horns')." As a more relevant example, to a Muslim, something that's "jihad" is by definition a good thing, so when US officials refer to adversaries as "jihadists" we're implicitly accepting their definition of the conflict as one pitting Muslim holy warriors against enemies of the faith. This doesn't, it seems to me, actually have a particularly tight relationship to consumer marketing practices (James Fallows mentioned it in a brilliant September 2006 article without bringing up consumer marketing), but it is true that these lessons need to be learned.

White House photo by Paul Morse

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Matthew Yglesias is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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