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Terrorism: A Marketing Analysis.

It happened again. A few months back, another of those fanatical terrorists--What was his name? Osama Bin-Kenobi, or something like that--went to war with the United States. He blew up a couple of our embassies, talked a lot of trash, got a lot of attention. Then, faster than you can say "Ted Koppel," he was out of the news, bumped aside by other foreign threats, domestic scandals, and Furbies.

This is a recurring phenomenon for extremist groups and, while the motives for their attacks may differ greatly, their strategies have one distinct similarity: they aren't very smart. Quite simply, an attack has never been a very effective means of influencing the political process. In fact, these days it's almost pointless.

I don't mean to say that we should take threats of terrorism lightly. And I certainly don't want to trivialize the pain of those who have lost loved ones in these tragedies. But when the attack is over, when the initial sorrow and outrage have subsided, then what? The families and friends of the victims are too overwhelmed by grief to think about some distant political agenda. The rest of us, meanwhile, are not really in a position to address the terrorist's demands and, frankly, we're too detached to care anyway. So the terrorists are forgotten, and their demands--once as conspicuous as the oil spilled from the Exxon Valdez--get washed away by the waves of news.

You don't need a magnifying lens to see just how futile terrorism is; all it takes is a few copies of old newspapers. For example, we all remember the massacre at the Egyptian ruins, the Tokyo subway gassing, and the bombing at the Uffizi Gallery. But does anyone really remember who committed these atrocities? Or why?

To be fair, it's hard for anyone--even news-junkie humanists--to keep up with all of these incidents, especially since many of them do not directly affect U.S. interests. On the other hand, it wasn't that long ago that the U.S. compounds in Lebanon and Dahran were attacked--but you'd be hard-pressed to find someone outside of the military who can give you any specifics about what happened and why.

Even when terrorism occurs directly on U.S. soil, the lasting impact is minimal. The World Trade Center bombing, for example, was a horrendous tragedy, but it barely caused a ripple in the day-to-day lives of most Americans--and few can even remember the name of the guy who orchestrated it. For that matter, did they ever figure out a motive for the Atlanta Olympic Games tragedy? And what exactly did Timothy McVeigh want (besides having that annoying computer chip removed from his head)?

Now if I were a consultant to terrorist groups, I'd advise going about things completely differently. For we busy Americans, the usual types of assaults are just annoyances, especially during the tourist season. If you really want to get our attention, you have to hit us where it's going to hurt. That means doing something really meaningful--like scrambling all the TV signals. Or you could commandeer all of our breweries. And, just for good measure, you might shut down all the big sports stadiums. Let me tell you, a couple of weeks without television, beer, and pro sports and this nation would be on its knees. We'd have millions of jersey-clad Americans storming the Capitol, pelting our leaders with empty beer mugs and remote controls.

These "surgical strikes" would definitely help get our attention and also make our leaders more willing to negotiate. But they wouldn't do much to win over the American public; for that, the terrorists would need to improve their public-approval rating. So the next step would be to get some public-relations assistance. Just imagine what a crack media team could do for these fanatics: pollsters to help them select appropriate targets, a press secretary to announce the attack, and spokespeople to put the right spin on it. Before long, we'd have Islamic fundamentalists on Meet the Press explaining why they are really the victims and skinheads telling Barbara Walters that the attacks, Barbara, are actually a cry for help (which, at least from a marketing standpoint, they sort of are).

So if Osama Chumbawamba and these other wild-eyed insurgents really want to influence American opinion, they need to get a new game plan--one that involves building bridges with us instead of blowing up our buildings. In the United States, a good beer is worth a thousand bombs and the way to America's heart is through our talk shows. Terrorists need to learn that victory is not won in a single dramatic burst but in hundreds of thirty-second increments. For international terrorists, the transformation from public pariah to trusted name won't come easily. But with the right strategy and enough time, anyone can do it.

Just like Exxon.

Jeff Rodriguez is a sexuality educator and freelance writer living in Fort Worth, Texas.
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Title Annotation:how terrorists could influence public opinion
Author:Rodriguez, Jeff
Publication:The Humanist
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 1999
Words:819
Previous Article:LETTERS.
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