On War, Comprehension and Persuasion

There must be something in the water lately as I have been getting an upsurge of inquiries and public comments regarding information operations, public diplomacy, “soft power” agents of influence, 5GW and similar matters. There are other blogs I can recommend as being better on this score – Beacon, MountainRunner, Kent’s Imperative, Swedish Meatballs Confidential and Whirledview to name but a few. Also, I would suggest that interested readers search the archives of Studies in Intelligence, PARAMETERS, The Strategic Studies Institute, Combined Arms Research Library and the threads at The Small Wars Council. Genuine expertise may be found there and for discussions of theory and emerging trends, I recommend Dreaming 5GW.

That being said, I will offer my two cents anyway.

One point of agreement across the political spectrum and that of informed opinion is that the USG has not done a particularly good job of managing “the war of ideas” in the conflict with Islamist terrorism. Or against state adversaries. Or with persuading neutrals and even our own allies to our point of view. When you are having difficulty drawing even in global popularity contest with a crowd of bearded fanatics who put beheading videos on the internet, it’s time to admit there’s a problem.

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Death of a Brand

I remember in the late 80’s when Montgomery Wards was having financial problems. They embarked on an advertising campaign called “Brand Central” where the front entrance of the store featured the names of all the brands inside, prominently displayed. My first thought was, wow, Montgomery Wards must have NEGATIVE brand equity. They felt that their name was driving away customers, and instead they put up the names of their products. Montgomery Wards went bankrupt, as everyone knows, and now their former HQ in River North is a chic high rise called the “Montgomery” and hipsters hang out in the remodeled former catalog facility nearby, which has high end restaurants and a health club.

This sign, broadly defined, signifies the same damaged brand name – in this case, AT&T. Comcast is using AT&T as a synonym for poor service and high prices – assuming that leaving AT&T would be a “plus” for their customers. I won’t comment here on the irony of Comcast as the pot calling the kettle black…

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A Blogger Asks A Question

Shannon’s post set me thinking about the odd & perhaps correct clock maker. And it took me back to 1983. We decided to computerize our typing service; my sister visited with the salesman (she ran the business while I had my middle child). As in so much, I think she made the correct choice: we both liked the TI models better but went with IBM, which appeared more flexible and accessible. We needed equipment that several part-time typists a day would work on, typists who came and went for a semester or two.

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Good vs. Bad Online Advertising

I couldn’t resist posting this unintentionally funny screen shot, but I don’t think there’s anything inherently bad about advertising, online or otherwise. Done well, it adds value for advertisers, publishers and readers alike. But it has to be done well if it is not to subtract value for the reader. (If it subtracts value for the advertiser or publisher it never gets published.) A lot of online advertising is still of the intrusive popup type, and pretending that it’s “context sensitive” because it’s linked to unrelated, vaguely related or overly general keywords doesn’t transform it into something valuable for readers. The best context-sensitive ads I’ve seen are in a hobby forum that serves its own ads and makes it easy for advertisers to select keywords that readers will find interesting enough to click on. Those are ads that you want to see if you are interested in the topic of a discussion. By contrast, the typical served-by-third-parties popup, like the one shown above, is nothing more than an irritant unless it happens to deliver a relevant message by chance.