The Islamic State's branding and media operations are critical for their recruitment and survival, and America is struggling to compete.

It's been less than a year since IS burst onto the stage, seizing large amounts of territory and shocking the world with its brutally violent tactics. During that time, the group has evolved into a highly sophisticated multimedia organization, boasting slick social media strategies that could give major corporate marketing teams a run for their money. IS knows how to package its extremist ideology in the form of well-produced videos, attractive graphics, polished magazines and strategic online posts. It's also strikingly savvy at spreading them online, tailoring their presentation and message to media sites like Twitter, YouTube and Vine. The messages are hypercustomized in language, tone and content to reach as many people possible and ultimately go viral. As Marshall Sella recently wrote in Matter, IS is "an entire brand family, the equivalents of the Apple logo's glow ... terrorism's Coca-Cola." There's no need to hold an IS-stamped watch or baseball hat in your hands to face the truth: IS is a powerful and terrifying brand that we were not prepared to reckon with. ...

"These videos of people killing themselves and joining terrorist groups around the world, they're conveying a narrative of authenticity," [Oren Segal, co-director of the Anti-Defamation League's Center on Extremism] said. "When we're trying to come up with something that opposes that, how do we capture an authentic counternarrative that doesn't look like 'Say no to drugs'? We need something meaningful. At the end of the day, it's a battle for hearts and minds."

The lack of such philosophical/moral/religious focus is a weakness of the Western secular system. We hope our strengths can make up for it: wealth, size, technology, liberty. For the past couple of centuries our system has managed to beat our more ideologically-cohesive opponents.

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