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Opening Arguments

New and improved

Look, I know branding works, but it's still cynical and manipulative. Instead of telling companies to just do what they do and do it well and for a justifiable price, they persuade them to sell the sizzle by coming up with an easily graspable and memorable slogan or image. Healthier potato chips! A brand-new car, twice as good as the old one! And now, the new and improved war in Iraq:


In the advertising world, brand identity is everything. Volvo means safety. Colgate means clean. IPod means cool. But since the U.S. military invaded Iraq in 2003, its "show of force" brand has proved to have limited appeal to Iraqi consumers, according to a recent study commissioned by the U.S. military.

The key to boosting the image and effectiveness of U.S. military operations around the world involves "shaping" both the product and the marketplace, and then establishing a new identity that places what you are selling in a positive light, said clinical psychologist Todd Helmus, the author of Enlisting Madison Avenue: The Marketing Approach to Earning Popular Support in Theaters of Operation. The 211-page study, for which the U.S. Joint Forces Command paid the Rand Corp. $400,000, was released this week.

Helmus and his co-authors concluded that the "force" brand, which the United States peddled for the first few years of the occupation, was doomed from the start and has lost ground to enemies' competing brands. While not abandoning the more aggressive elements of warfare, the report suggested, a more attractive brand for the Iraqi people might have been "We will help you." That is what President Bush's new Iraq strategy is striving for as it focuses on establishing a protective U.S. troop presence in Baghdad neighborhoods, training Iraq's security forces, and encouraging the central and local governments to take the lead in making things better.

This is almost beyond parody. But I suppose it will be attractive to the sort of people who have rebranded "tax and spend" as "investing in the future" and tried to sell amnesty for millions of lawbreakers as "comprehensive immigration reform."