Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Not even the best PD

can (TY JB for being my typo catcher) fix Israel's image without a change in policies. Nice to see someone else get this. Nice piece by Gary Wexler in the Forward:
Yet, as strange as it may sound coming from a marketer with an advertising background, who has represented hundreds of Jewish organizations worldwide, I have arrived at the conclusion that the solution will not be found in branding, marketing, public relations or the writings of political pundits. The problem is that all their concepts, strategies, words and legitimate defenses – no matter how powerful and clever – are not going to elevate Israel’s plummeting image. Hundreds of thousands of dollars from donors and the Israeli government have been poured into this effort, yet the situation only worsens every month. I am as much to blame as anyone for being a supporter of these actions.

It has become clear that the world doesn’t care about Israel’s wines, its Bauhaus architecture, its fashion, its alluring women, its sexy gay men, its beaches, its ballet or its hummus. The world, its media and its university campuses are riveted upon Israel’s relationship with the Palestinians as well as the state of its democracy.

No, the answer to Israel’s image problems does not depend upon the marketing. It depends first upon the policies.

Something is proving wrong with several of the ingredients in Israel as a product. The policies – whether we argue they are right or wrong internally – are spoiling the taste for the world consumer as well as for many in a new generation of young Jews, even those who have been on Birthright. This is not a left- or a right-wing opinion. It is a fact. No matter how Israel markets or defends itself in the media, the policies seep into the equation and kill the success of the image.

Do I have the answer for how to fix the policies, or even which policies need fixing? No. But I’m not a politician. I’m an adman and a marketer. And I can tell you, from my years creating ads for products from Coca Cola to Apple Computer, if people keep reading about some bad ingredients in the ketchup, very few people will buy the bottle, no matter how much money and creativity you pack into the marketing. No amount of branding, slogans, viral ideas or clever engagement is going to lead towards the success that supporters of Israel need.

What I can say is that Israel, and those who love her, need to take a hard, honest look in the mirror and uncover the deeper problems, the ones that cannot be fixed with a better logo. The loss of “Israeli” hummus might not seem detrimental right now. But that scene on Venice Beach might be a sign of things to come, when it’s more than just the producers of hummus who refuse to identify with Israel.
My own two shekels is that I heard a common refrain from Israel supporters that Israel and Israeli advocacy orgs do poor public diplomacy.  This simply isn't true.  Israeli public diplomacy is actually quite good.  Israel is quick to adopt new platforms and find alternative ways of conducting public and cultural diplomacy.  But it doesn't really matter.  It is all advocacy to get around bad policies that don't jibe with the emotional, irrational side that really matters.  Israel spends a tremendous amount of money trying to explain and advocate around issues rather than assess its failed policies.  The Palestinians might not have nearly as much invested in public diplomacy, but they have a hell of a lot more soft power than Israel simply because they win the emotional argument.  What Bernays got, which Israel still hasn't, is that the rational explanations cannot overcome the emotional reaction that much of the world has to bad Israeli policies of settlement construction and continued occupation.  But because Israel (among many others) doesn't listen to the critique but simply puts its fingers in its ears and continues advocating, it really gets nowhere.

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