Saturday, January 28, 2006

Knowing is Beautiful

This week the current administration has been busy re-branding "domestic spying" as "terrorist surveillance." A recent New York Times story,"Administration Starts Weeklong Blitz in Defense of Eavesdropping Program," indicates that policy makers and spokespeople are absolutely insisting on the term "terrorist surveillance" in response to media queries about "domestic spying." It even looks like this strategy may eventually work. The New York Times reports that a "New Poll Finds Mixed Support for Wiretaps," and data from poll results shows that public opinion may be swayed by the right pitch.

So here's my question: What if this administration decided to actually hire a public relations firm to assist them with their re-branding efforts? What agency would they hire? What would the campaign for "terrorist surveillance" look like? Given recent advertising-government collaborations in Public Diplomacy, Social Marketing, and Risk Communication, it isn't such an outrageous idea.

Because of the subject matter, I'm thinking they should hire trendy Miami ad agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky, who produced the first sensuous Knowing is Beautiful campaign to glamorize HIV testing as sexy. Ads could show a gorgeous Middle Eastern woman or hunky Kabuliwalla guy and emphasize how clean security credentials can make immigrants marketable as romantic partners. After all, the profiling involved in the old "domestic spying" program is practically this overtly stereotypical. Yet, since the administration has hardly been forthcoming about facts, Crispin may not be the right choice. After all, this is the agency that brought us The Truth anti-smoking campaign, which emphasized anti-establishment thinking and anti-consumerist appeals.

Since there aren't search warrants or much of a public paper trail, maybe a stealth campaign would be appropriate, perhaps one like the viral marketing campaign for the Ford Fusion by JWT Detroit who commissioned Kirt Gunn and @radical media to create a popular web-based mockumentary about the Scandinavian noise band Hurra Torpedo, "the world's leading kitchen appliance rock group." Maybe they could do a similar "mockumentary" about a fun-loving group of Yemeni performance artists in which we get to watch their every contentious squabble and interaction with every idiotic hanger-on from each stop on their side-splitting national tour.

Or, because the "terrorist surveillance" program emphasizes gradualism and the incremental appropriation of national security powers, maybe the right choice is McCann-Erickson Worldwide, " who media watchers know from the campaign to reduce obesity. The spots could emphasize the general unattractiveness of terrorists and how just a little less terrorism worked on every day can really improve a person's social desirability.

Then again, old marketing hands might say the most logical way to go would be the tried-and-true Brand X vs. Brand Y strategy. The campaign could present something like how National Security is faster and more effective than the competing brand, Civil Liberties. After all, Euro RSCG Worldwide company website already pitches one social good against another in their Blood Saves campaign.

And then there is always the administration's odds-on favorite The Lincoln Group, since they actually specialize in public diplomacy and anti-terrorist efforts. Yet if I know the Lincoln Group, they are sure to give us an incoherent campaign centered on water bottles or toys from children's cartoons or some other piece of take-away anti-terrorist swag.

My bet is that wiser heads will ultimately prevail, and they'll choose a firm who can really pull at people's heartstrings, like Texas-based Allyn and Company, part of worldwide PR giant Omnicom. The choice would be especially appropriate, since Allyn already has experience marketing against the murder of innocent civilians, with their "Baby Moses" campaign against infanticide.

But, seriously folks, if things get worse, how will the government market "terrorism surveillance" to the American people? Like an insurance ad? Like a car ad that emphasizes displays of mechanical might and technological prowess? Like a prescription drug ad that pitches the competence of the experts and the need for prevention?

I suppose we'll wait and see.

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