Terrorism brand management: What’s in a name?

isis leader watch

Terror chief al-Baghdadi reportedly sporting a $6,000 watch.

As the world watches ISIS’s attempts to carry out its mission to rid the global community of the Infidel, it just may be helping. Or is it ISIL, or Islamic State, or QSIS? What’s in a name, really? Frankly, a great deal.

ISIS’s identity has appeared to randomly shift. But it is something U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel recently referred to as “a bigger threat than 9/11.”

But he was partially wrong. He got the name wrong, that is.

Let’s call the misnomer the beginning of our accidental brand management.

we are all isisISIS — “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria” — implies two states with a clear mission to convert governmental structures into theocracies. That name came from the group itself.

ISIS is called Da ‘ish or Dar al-Ifta by Arabic media.

However, the United Nations refers to the group as ISIL, or the “Islamic State of Iraq and Levant.”

Levant? Levant is, by historical definition, the Eastern Mediterranean and encompasses a broader swath of area, including modern-day Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, and Egypt.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

“The U.N. and the U.S. State Department have now started using the term ISIL to refer to the jihadists because of the group’s broader mission to extend their reach into a wider area,” said Associated Press editor Tom Kent. “Using ‘Iraq and Syria’ gives the incorrect impression that the group’s aspirations are limited to these two present-day countries.”

As of Aug. 27, a new brand has emerged. QSIS: “al-Qaeda Separatists in Iraq and Syria.” And that name comes from the group in Egypt, as well. What happened to Levant? Leaders in some Middle Eastern states are urging media to adopt the new name in an attempt to prevent Islam from being broadly associated with extremism.

Ibrahim Negm , advisor to Egypt’s chief religious leader, Grand Mufti Shawqi Allam said the extremists have an incorrect understanding of Jihad.

“The initiative by Dar al-Ifta came to express the institution’s rejection of many stereotypes that attach the name of Islam to bloody and violent acts committed by such groups,” he said to Al Arabiya News

 

So, what will the final name of this group be? The ultimate problem is less about that and more about the narrative swirling around the reasons why. This is where it becomes a true marketing conundrum particularly from a cultural perspective.

The narrative began online among the influencers, the media, and the mob.

BRAND

What is a brand? A brand transcends the letters in the word itself, despite itself. Coke, Nike, Apple, or the “The Red Bear” or “Dear Leader.”

 

It is here in the vagaries of the Internet where, at the outer limits of the web, influencers engage the casual web surfer and greet the mob. And it is also here where brand relationships are made.

courtesy: The Daily Beast

courtesy: The Daily Beast

A marketer’s job is to craft a brand that evokes a personal response — a call to action, general buy-in, or empathy. Most importantly, marketers want you to feel a personal relationship with whatever they’re promoting.

Now, government, religious groups, and media are arguing over not only what the group stands for, but also over the nature of the relationship the group has to their own stakeholders.

It’s an editor’s job to make sure the stories they publish are relevant to their readers or viewers.

 

Again, this is a conundrum for all. And it has become even more so, considering a new study from Pew Research that shows people are less likely to share their views online if they don’t believe others will agree with their stand on a particular issue. As a result, they surround themselves with like-minded individuals with similar political or social bents. In the case of this group’s branding, perhaps the fact these narratives are continuing in separate vacuums is actually promoting confusion. And perhaps more armed conflict.

President Obama with Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri-al-Maliki in 2014

Mr. Obama with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri-al-Maliki in 2014

So, this is where we are: we brand an enemy according to how it may impact our way of life. So, we (the media, the government, the mob) begin a narrative on the whys, but ignore how the enemy affects others. And without listening to others, that narrative crescendos into a din and even accelerates up into a financial storm.

Reports are that this terrorist group has amassed more than $2 billion in financial assets. With that kind of funding, coupled with the help of web inhabitants and some cross-cultural (and silo-ed) branding, fever for a bigger and broader military-industrial complex might be a cinch. Unfortunately.

Avoid “boiler room” marketing campaigns at all costs. Brand and sales ROI failure imminent

Scene from "Boiler Room" (2000)

I wanted to share a letter I wrote this morning to a marketing director at a major cruise line. I’ll cite this as a lesson on what not to do in a promotions campaign.

Dear (marketing director):

I recently called [credit card company] customer service at [redacted] on a general inquiry about my credit card.  But rather than reaching the system, I heard a recording congratulating me on being winner of a 2-night cruise aboard [cruise line ] to the Bahamas.  I decided to press “1” to hear more, as I had a few minutes.

I then was put in touch with a sales representative who read his prepared script, explaining it was merely a promotional campaign by [**] and that I would only be liable for $59.00 “port fee” per person. The trip could be redeemed within 18 months. I agreed and provided the individual with my credit card information. He provided me with his Corporate ID #. He then transferred me to an “authorization representative” who proceeded to up-sell me on hotels, cars, a six-night extended stay, etc. I told him I wasn’t interested and just wanted my reservation number. He told me he was still waiting for it. I pressed him and he put me on hold. This was the first of three different times I was put on hold. Each time I told the individual all I wanted was the reservation number and that was it.  Finally, I hung up. I was on the phone for nearly 30 minutes. I have since called my credit card company to flag this incoming transaction to be blocked. That took a grand total of four.

These types of “boiler room” marketing tactics do little to enhance the brand of [**]. Rather, I submit, they strike confusion and paranoia among those who have a minimum understanding of how promotion campaigns are supposed to be executed.

Of course, no one can be sure which company has the controlling administrative function of said-promotional campaign. But I strongly advise each marketing department to examine the long term ROI of such aggressive sales strategies.

I, also, am an integrated communications and marketing professional. We both work in the business of perception.  At the very least, your people and/or partners are giving our profession a bad name.

Regards,

Evan Howell