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May 28, 2009

Why does the US get bad PR? It's not the propaganda

The Government Accountability Office spends 43 pages "analyzing" why the United States gets lousy global PR despite having spent billions on its image. Hint to the GAO: It's not the advertising. It's the policy.

Since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the U.S. government has spent at least $10 billion on communication efforts designed to advance the strategic interests of the United States. However, foreign public opinion polling data shows that negative views towards the United States persist despite the collective efforts to counteract them by the State Department (State), Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Department of Defense (DOD), and other U.S. government agencies. Based on the significant role U.S. strategic communication and public diplomacy efforts can play in promoting U.S. national security objectives, such as countering ideological support for violent extremism, we highlighted these efforts as an urgent issue for the new administration and Congress. To assist Congress with its oversight agenda, we have enclosed a series of issue papers that discuss long-standing and emerging public diplomacy challenges identified by GAO and others.

UPDATE: Alex says, in comments: "giving Yugo the ad dollars of Chevrolet will not change things"

Posted by Jay Hancock at 8:14 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Marketing


One of the problems facing us is the type of warfare confronting us. Who exactly is the enemy? Our bombing only creates more terrorists or terrorist sympathizers. War truly is not the answer. No matter how much money we spend on trying to communicate our mission and intent with people in foreign lands nothing will change until we end our military occupation of these countries.

As a Canadian, I was deeply offended by the way Bush's first ambassador to Canada, Cellucci, tried to wheedle Canada into participating in Iraq by saying that, if Canada were invaded or threatened, the US would be there for us. Well, duh, naturally -- since every time Canada has been invaded or threatened by invasion in the past 250 years, it's been by the US. (Yes, the War of 1812 was a long time ago, but the RCMP and our first transcontinental railroad were both responses to the policy of Manifest Destiny. And in both world wars, you guys spent an uncomfortably long time deciding which side to be on. And the Cold War -- the missiles were going to be flying over Canada, both ways.)

Just having more intelligent people in the White House now will do more than billions spent on propaganda.

And delivering Dick Cheney and his colleagues to the Hague could earn the equivalent of an international standing ovation.

There are in my view three basic things that are important in earing positive PR:
1. What you do is more important than what you say
2. History matters
3. Culture/religion matters

Especially regarding 2) and 3), older cultures/nations have much longer memories than the United States. The people in those cultures/nations do not suffer from the short attention spans that afflicts Americans. They are not easily manipulated and spun by multi-billion-dollar propaganda. For example, in Afpak, the response of the Pashtun militants is informed by memories that goes back to Alexander the Great. They most certainly remember collectively the trauma of the indiscriminate bombings by British colonial troops and how the British divided to conquer and in the process marginalized those they classified as primitive/tribal (a term which unfortunately still spices discourse on Pakistan, especially). They react to U.S. actions (and words) in that light.

Comments are right on the money.
This is carved in stone: "Good advertising helps a poor product fail quicker."
We were attacked because of what Bush/Cheney (BC) planned to do overseas. We are not respected because we preach things like "rule of law" and "equality" but we don't apply the rule of law to "elites" and we don't allow equality to non-elites.
We can.
But, by analogy, giving Yugo the ad dollars of Chevrolet will not change things.

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About Jay Hancock
Jay Hancock has been a financial columnist for The Baltimore Sun since 2001. He has also been The Baltimore Sun's diplomatic correspondent in Washington and its chief economics writer. Before moving to Baltimore in 1994 he worked for The Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk and The Daily Press of Newport News.

His columns appear Tuesdays and Sundays.

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