Advertisers Turn to Love While World Erupts in Violence

Could Amour-Minded Marketers Help Heal Global Tensions?

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Love is not only in the air these days but all over the airwaves, too.

Subaru is saying that love is what makes a Subaru a Subaru, and now McDonald's is reshaping "I'm lovin' it" to reflect its newest iteration, "Choose lovin'." Love now becomes more than just a good experience; love now becomes a way of life.

Credit: Pete Ryan for Ad Age

On the surface, you might think that conjuring up love as a reason to buy might not do the trick, but maybe advertisers are figuring that, with all the hatred in the world, a little love is what we all need right now. In fact, McDonald's U.S. CMO Deborah Wahl said exactly that in a recent video explaining the company's brand refresh: "We believe that a little more lovin' can change a lot—even the world we live in," she said. "Lately, the balance of lovin' and hatin' seems off. Who better to stand up for lovin' than McDonald's?"

I got an email the other day from Leslie Wolff, CEO of Smart Marketing Group, about the inroads of the terrorist groups ISIS and al-Qaida in marketing their message of "intolerance, fear-mongering and incitement to violence" to impressionable young people. They push the idea that "there is something exciting, even memorable and prestigious" in creating havoc and death.

To complicate matters, there is no consensus about what motivates the terrorists. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman writes that the Obama administration, fearful of being accused of Islamophobia, "is refusing to make any link to radical Islam from the recent explosions of violence against civilians."

It's not hard to make the case that religion isn't their cause, but a recruiting tool used to enrich themselves.

Les says that when he sees the leader of ISIS wearing a $30,000 Rolex, he realizes religion isn't the group's driving focus. And in relation to the recent acts of terrorism in Paris, those particular culprits "had a history of criminal activity and [also] used a religious platform to generate revenue."

Les thinks the Ad Age audience could develop a marketing strategy to counter this "growing force of evil." Ad Age's readership "encompasses some of the brightest creative people in the world, and who better to counter this flood of extremism?" He said the ISIS and al-Qaida groups have learned how to market themselves and their political objectives "as something of religious value." He believes our readership could turn the tide against the fanatics.

I have as much faith in our readership as anybody and in the power of advertising, but I don't think Bill Bernbach could change the target groups' minds about the Islamic fundamentalists who are not concerned about convincing people in general that their cause is just. But they are very adept at signing up recruits because the people they are after know the groups represent power, and that is what the recruits desperately want and crave.

Les contends that prospective recruits could be dissuaded with a message that joining the terrorists is a "guarantee they'll have no future." The problem is they don't have one now.

And the internal hierarchy of the groups is set up to reward killing and mayhem, just like the mafia's hierarchical chain of command rewards its members. They derive their respect from each other, not what the outside world thinks of them. In fact, they use the outside world's fear and loathing of them as a recruiting tool.

They also take great satisfaction from being able to elude capture. As The Wall Street Journal reported, borderless travel across most of the European Union makes it easy for suspects to evade detection. "Terror suspects are exploiting the ease of travel across the continent to stay one step ahead of the authorities as they move militants, cash and weapons across the bloc without raising alarms," the WSJ explained.

ISIS and al-Qaida are in competition with each other for money and recruits, so it is no wonder that each event seems to be more horrific than the last. It's like mafia chieftains muscling in on each other's territory.

I don't think advertising can change any minds in this standoff. As the world slips into further chaos and disorder, there's not much that advertisers can really do to make people feel better about things. About all they can do is take the opposite tack and spread the word that a little more love can go a long way.

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