Ads Sell What Muslim Audiences Are Not Buying

By Published on .

Client: U.S. State Department
Agency: McCann-Erickson, New York
Star Rating: 1.0

Since Sept. 11, we -- the infidels -- have repeatedly been shocked by the level of suspicion, anger, resentment, paranoia and abject hatred felt not merely by

Idyllic visions of a multicultural America will not blunt Muslim anger.
militant Islamists but by ordinary citizens throughout the Muslim world.

Government approach
We are incredulous, for instance, that bizarre conspiracy theories and the vile Big Lie that Jews were forewarned about the 9/11 attacks are accepted as fact by millions around the globe. We are fearful that the yawning cultural, economic and political gaps between the two worlds are yielding an endless, insane jihad. And we, as a society, are struggling with our own rage and frustration, as reflected in the three-pronged approach of our government leaders.

  1. Win over the hearts and minds of our Muslim brothers and sisters with expressions of sympathy and understanding.

  2. Arrest our Muslim brothers and sisters and hold them for months without charges -- but only the ones who behave suspiciously, by flying on airplanes or having unsavory friends or associates.

  3. Bomb the living hell out of whoever is left over.

Irrespective of the righteousness of the War on Terrorism, it's undeniable that the West is sending out mixed messages. This puts ever more pressure on those fighting the battle for hearts and minds, and asks advertising to do things it can never

alone do. The State Department's initial propaganda barrage, from McCann-Erickson, New York, is probably harmless, but is almost sweet in its breathtaking naivete.

Cherished melting pot
The message: America bears no grudge against Islam, but embraces it as part of our cherished melting pot.

A Toledo baker. The director of the National Institutes of Health. A New York Fire Department paramedic. A student broadcaster in Missouri. They all testify to America's welcoming spirit and respect for their faith.

"There is an opportunity for mutual understanding," the student says.

Ok. Swell. The sentiments are mainly true. Freedom of religion was the seminal inspiration for our nation. In our uniquely pluralistic society, headscarves and mosques are just part of the cultural patchwork. Muslims live and work happily among Christians and Jews, free to worship as they please, citizens and neighbors like anyone else.

Not the question
So, if the question is "Is America hospitable to Muslims?" the answer is yes. Alas, that isn't the question. Let's put aside the militant minority who believe that Western society is irredeemably corrupt, and who desire, for western crimes real and imagined, blood revenge. What the majority in the Islamic world are asking for is:

  • An end to western support of Israel.

  • A modicum of democratic choice in their own nations -- vs. the repressive, U.S.-backed authoritarian regimes they live under.

  • A chance to escape the grinding poverty under which so many of them live and a reasonable hope for the end of hopelessness.

Marketing -- whether of toothpaste or political ideas -- isn't about putting the best face on that which you wish to sell. It is about discovering what the target audience wants and making available what they wish to buy.

And what the Muslim world wishes to buy, as we have learned only too well, is not a vision of milk and honey in a rich country they could never dream of living in. This is no job for TV commercials.

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