Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Congratulations! It's Twins!

This blog has been arguing that the twin offspring of the union of the virtual state and the advertising industry -- "public diplomacy" and "social marketing" -- are worth paying attention to from the perspective of civic rhetoric. No doubt these niche specialties can serve noble ends. On its face, public diplomacy aims to diffuse political violence and prevent war, and social marketing encourages citizens to take individual responsibility for complex public health issues, even at the expense of instant gratification, to achieve long term collective goals. Academic centers and professional research organizations in traditional institutions of knowledge reflect the rising profile of intellectual influence from these two fields.

Nonetheless, stories like "Republican Strategist is Taking Heat for Taking Mexico as a Client" in the New York Times and "Fox Turns to Texas PR Firm to Shape Mexico's Image in U.S." in the Los Angeles Times have publicized how these efforts now reflect increasing globalization, because transnational corporations are specializing in the crafting of public campaigns that nourish the spawn of what I still consider to be the unnatural alliance of media-savvy digital government and psy-ops from Madison Avenue.

One of this month's controversies focuses on how Texas-based Allyn and Company, part of worldwide PR giant Omnicom, helped Vicente Fox win his campaign for the Mexican presidency and subsequently received a contract from PAN leadership to fund positive marketing on behalf of cross-border migration to counteract opposing efforts for Congressional legislation that would tighten labor regulations and build a southern border fence that would replace the current porous network of checkpoints.

Although the homepage of Allyn and Company separates their major client categories ("International," "Political," and "Issues"), the actual Allyn and Company product lines show the interdependent ideologies of foreign and domestic marketing agendas. The website showcases political advertising campaigns in Haiti, Indonesia, and Mexico that imitate similar appeals to voters in Texas. In their press room, Allyn even boasts of being on-hand when cabinets of foreign governments are chosen using personnel techniques from the corporate sector of the U.S.

Allyn also handles certain domestic issues about the regulation of private space related to social marketing, such as the building of smoke-free environments, and it even markets efforts to discourage obviously criminal acts like infanticide. For example, the "Baby Moses" spot opens with a desperate teen abandoning her baby in a dumpster. (See below. Click to enlarge.)

For those looking toward the geopolitical event horizon, Vox Global Mandate SM was recently launched by Omnicom member Fleishman-Hillard International Communications. Like other public diplomacy efforts, Vox Global plans to use techniques of subliminal persuasion, even though Vox Global is ostensibly aimed at shaping the "new global democracy," albeit one without the messy and unscripted communicative exchanges from the "vox populi" of a genuinely open public sphere.

Given the work of fellow Omicom agency Allyn for open borders, it is ironic that the domestic arm of Fleishman-Hillard Government is part of the brain trust behind the much lampooned PR for the Office of Homeland Security.

Even if one isn't directly in these target markets, the Internet allows critics to see the primary sources that serve as evidence of how these campaigns are orchestrated. Readers unfamiliar with Source Watch should also bookmark the innovative wiki from the Center for Media and Democracy, which does an excellent job of covering these rapidly morphing entities and pitches.



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