Saturday, July 21, 2007

We will help you

Thank god, the long national nightmare of the Cheney presidency is over.

Corp. Trent Thomas says that it was God’s will that he not go to jail for killing Awad the Lame: “God’s willing for me to get out.” Also, that kidnapping and murdering a civilian was entirely justified: “I believe we did what we needed to do save Marines’ lives. I think anybody who understands what war is or what combat is understands.” The LAT analyzes why Thomas is a free man, and is the first newspaper to mention his race.

The RAND Corporation produced a report (pdf) for the Pentagon, Enlisting Madison Avenue: The Marketing Approach to Earning Popular Support in Theaters of Operation. They must know something about marketing the unmarketable: they got the Pentagon to spend $400,000 on this study. Which is about the need to change the “branding” of the Iraq and Afghan wars, because if there’s been anything missing in these wars, it’s “the application of select, proven commercial marketing techniques.” Which the authors like to call “shaping,” as in, “To ensure victory, U.S. forces must effectively shape the indigenous population.”

“It is exceedingly difficult to identify target audiences in complex and dangerous operating environments, and there is often a lack of access to segments of a population critical to conducting message pretesting.” Yes, it’s hard to run a focus group in a war zone. (When I wrote that, I was mocking. But on page 46 they do actually call for focus groups, quoting someone complaining that “products” intended for use on the Taliban were being “pretested” on civilians rather than on Taliban prisoners.) (And on pages 63-4, it discusses the difficulties in doing surveys before the actual invasion, suggesting “virtual focus groups with members of the population via Internet chat rooms.”)

A failure to synchronize messages is called “information fratricide.”

“First, the U.S. military should adopt the business strategy of segmentation and targeting whereby it would partition the indigenous population into selected groups based on their
level of anticipated support for coalition presence and objectives. Positioning is another marketing tool of potential value, one used to create an intended identity for each product that is meaningful, salient, and motivating to the consumer marketplace.”

“Customer satisfaction refers to the level of contentment consumers experience after using a product or service. Popular satisfaction with U.S. force presence can similarly determine allegiances.”

Soldiers should be issued “smart cards containing shaping themes.”

It suggests “harness[ing] the influencing power of indigenous government employees and security forces by having them keep blogs about their experiences with coalition forces and the indigenous government.”

It notes that the enemy too engages in “shaping” activities: intimidating journalists, filming their operations, providing basic services, that sort of thing. Also, culturally specific things like issuing fatwas. “These are particularly challenging to U.S. shaping efforts, as there is little opportunity to reply in kind.”

It documents several inadvertent affronts to Muslim sensibilities: “As coalition helicopters fly over urban areas, the gunners, whose feet hang from the aircraft, have inadvertently offended thousands of Iraqis who gaze above. Similarly, the use of dogs in house-to-house searches and the wearing of dark sunglasses have also angered some in the Iraqi population.”

“Interactions between U.S. service personnel and civilians drive popular perceptions of the U.S. force. Business practices that help align customer service representative actions with the intended brand identity can benefit the U.S. military.”

“Brands such as Starbucks and Apple have captured the hearts and minds of consumers and have reaped financial windfalls in return.” Hey, Trent Thomas is available for one of those “I’m a Mac”/“I’m a PC” commercials.

The keys to branding: “Know your target audience through segmentation and targeting.” I think the Iraqis have really had quite enough of segmentation and targeting. “Strategically synchronize the U.S. military brand.”

“These perceptions will constitute the U.S. military brand identity and will heavily influence how the population aligns its support. A force that is perceived as helpful and serving the best interests of the population will be far better accepted than a force perceived as hostile, insensitive, and rude.” Did I mention the Pentagon paid $400,000?

“Like commercial firms that must update unattractive brand identities, so too should the United States consider updating its military’s brand identity to suit current and future operational environments.” See, the problem is that “Since before World War II, the U.S. military has developed a brand identity based on a force of might.” And this brand identity is out of date for counter-insurgency wars.

They suggest the brand identity “We will help you.”

The main difficulty establishing that brand identity is when the US military goes out and kills people: “Virtually any kinetic operation has the potential to alienate civilians.”

If you kick down doors, they suggest, have someone there to fix the doors. If you accidentally kill someone and give out one of those $2,500 condolence payments, “determine whether the indigenous population and the afflicted families accept the prescribed payment as fair and reasonable.”

Try to achieve “customer satisfaction.”

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