In a previous article, I wrote about how "content creation" is sweeping the advertising world. It's the new black. The funny thing is that someone else has been doing content creation, quite successfully in fact, for some time now, and all that's happening is that advertisers, agencies and production companies are copying their example. I'm talking of course about Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, and a host of other fundamentalist and terrorist groups have been doing content creation to great success.
We see content creation all the time. Whenever an advertiser makes a cool video snippet or photo and places it on the Internet for all to download and forward along to friends, that's called content creation. The forwarding part is called viral marketing, for those keeping tabs. It differs from traditional advertising in that it is something which engages the audience more, and in a way, disguises its ultimate promotional goals to such an extent that people even recommend it to others. DJ parties, concerts, blogs, these are forms of content creation/manipulated by advertisers, all in the hopes to win hearts and minds over and above traditional television spots and magazine ads.
There was a recent phenomenon on the Internet, which featured a school girl's video diary. Every day, this girl would post a new video blog online, supposedly secretly describing her frustration with conservative and somewhat oppressive parents. Viewers were glued to what they thought were candid confessions, something which her parents were supposedly unaware of. In the aftermath, it was discovered that this was in fact a content creation exercise, intended to promote an upcoming film. Some have argued that it went too far, and in many ways it did. The advertiser employed shock and incited a vivid emotional response from the viewers to create a captive audience. Sound familiar?
If you look at what international terrorism does, it's really no different. They have a product to sell; a philosophy or their religious values. Few in the West will invite them to a fair debate, and even if they did, these debates aren't going to sell Allah in Kansas. The easiest thing to do would be to "go viral." When something goes viral, it means that people start to pass it along to their friends, and they to their friends, until ultimately everyone's talking about it.
Well, when those jets hit the twin towers, I would say that Al Qaeda went about as viral as you can get. News reports, internet activity, emails, phone calls, war, demonstrations, a fundamental change to the way the world thinks happened. That's a lot of Allah for the money spent. One event stretched Al Qaeda's advertising dollar far more than any TV spots, even during the Super Bowl. The knock-on effect will continue for decades, if not longer. Every time you are asked to remove your shoes at the airport, it's Al Qaeda's marketing plan functioning like clockwork.
Anything that fundamentalists do seems to go viral. Berg's decapitation. The failed UK airline plot - they don't even have to success, and their content spreads across all available information channels. Many will recall the spate of false alarms after the UK terrorist bust.
Now check this out: Hezbollah just launched a boy band. I swear. (http://edition.cnn.com/2006/WORLD/meast/08/25/hezbollah.band.ap/index.html). Think of the level of sophistication here, folks. Not only do they have a policy for external content, they have a separate and targeted campaign for internal dissemination. These are some ad savvy people. I can just imaging Hezbollah's PowerPoint presentation to the religious leaders in Iran:
"You can't appeal to today's jihadist with traditional methods. No, the MTV generation of extremists has a shorter attention span. They're not going to settle on simply hating Jews as their fathers did. We need to shake things up. No, we need eclecticism. We need to hate Denmark, comics, The Pope. Some variety. And we need to give them something to like. How about a boy band?"
Anheiser Busch has launched a content creation division to promote their beer brands. Warner has done the same, but more from the production side. Agencies are jumping to make this happen. Ultimately, however, everyone will be inadvertently looking to extremists in the Middle East for groundbreaking (sic) examples of how to do this properly. Ogilvy&Hezbollah - the future of advertising.
The irony of all this is that the West's philosophical obsession with freedom has allowed for the growth of terrorism as an expression of content. It is because of the Internet and people ability to select content, that those who have something to say, now strive to create compelling content. Only in places like Russia where the content is strictly controlled can you really stave off effective terrorism. Al Qaeda know that the louder and more outrageous their content, the more people will choose to tune in. Al Jazeera, Hezbollah, Al Qaeda - fifty years from now, these will be household names in the media and advertising world, with books about advertising featuring their names, the way books about Genghis Khan became management books in the 90s.
This is why the next battle in the advertising sphere will be for content creation.