NPR did a piece last week on the new communication strategy in Iraq (listen here). The U.S military is attempting a Madison Avenue approach, attempting to sell the U.S. occupation as a good thing in the way you would persuade someone to buy Pepsi. The exact tactics are unclear but there is an idea of a new communication strategy. Communication is presented as a new solution but the new solution is full of problems. One problem is the individual person’s inability to be neutral. The second problem is that the new strategy is based on old communication models.
Eric Dezenhall is astute in the NPR piece because he point out the problem with the “evangelical view” of communication. Communication is context-specific, meaning it enters into an existing psychological and cultural framework. Dezenhall points out that a completely neutral audience never exists in advertising. In the case of Iraq, there are a lot of upset people. The marketing strategy, in his estimation, is likely to fail because it is unable to understand the hostility of the Iraqi audience to messages from the U.S. government.
It is unlikely that the military will adapt to a new plan, leadning to the second problem. The military believes a message can be spread through force alone. If a message is repeated loudly and more frequently, then the military believes it will get through. The “Transmission Model” is flawed because it treats communication like a series of mortars. A communicator in any context is simply not able to launch an idea into an enemy territory and hope it does damage. Related to the first problem, the military is not only a believer in a failing plan but a group unable to change plans.
The Consortium for Strategic Communication (FULL DISCLOSURE: I am/was a member of this group) released a report claiming a new communication model was needed for the war on terrorism. The Pragmatic Complexity Model allows for greater adaptation to a specific context but has some disadvantages in presentation. The concept of “failure as the norm” is realistic but unpalatable. Planning small carries fewer political advantages than planning big. It is a tougher model but a new plan for the future. I ask the readers to listen and read, giving some feedback on the best course of action.