The conflict as marketing war: What we can learn from anti-Israel activism

Gary Wexler

LOS ANGELES (JTA) — The bottom-line marketing success: Israel is now perceived as the pariah nation and the Palestinians and its supporters are the cause of good.

This enormous, growing international accomplishment is a marketing professional’s dream. As one of those professionals, I want to know everything I can. I want to duplicate it for my clients.

I want to hire its strategists. I want to be invited to breakfast meetings with its creative thinkers. I want to pick their brains, acquire their talents, meet their teachers, sit in their concept meetings and work with their suppliers. I want to know how they evaluate their successes and failures, what they learn from them and how they apply those lessons to the next bigger and even better job.

More than anything, I want to know how their big brilliant ideas evolve and understand the insights and capabilities of their implementation teams.

Whoever these people are, they should be the agency that wins all the awards, is focused upon and hired for every new venture. They are superstars.

As a marketer for 30 years, I must always be in tune with my colleagues and competitors. In that time I have acquired an inherent sense to recognize when there exists a marketing team of excellence behind the effort. I would bet my entire professional career that in this case, there is indeed such a team. These actions don’t come about helter-skelter. They are of the same consistency and excellence time after time. It is a clear mark of the same people or a rigid discipline being transferred from group to group.

The team is coordinated across the world. It pulls off each action with precision and prediction.

And it is anonymous, not vying for recognition, credit or visibility for its members’ own individual personas.

This team has its pulse on trends in the marketing field and recognizes that marketing is no longer media driven but idea driven. The media follow the idea and the celebrated figures connected to the implementation. It is no longer a day of buying ads and other media and then building your case through incessant verbiage. It is an era of creating powerful, big ideas resulting in images, reactions and stories that move virally within hours across the globe. Just like the flotilla. Just like naming the next ship the Rachel Corrie. Just like all the recent spate of Rachel Corrie media products. Just like Apartheid Week. The list of this team’s brilliant media ideas and the media products it pumps out is endless, and its output improves with each new invention.

These media people see themselves as soldiers and have their pulse on changes in warfare. The enemies of Israel and the Jewish people have switched their strategy of combat from terror to media ideas. By closing shop on their terror war and moving the battle front for legitimacy to the world media, they are accomplishing what their strategies of terror never could. They appear as victims with growing international support, including the overwhelming support of a new generation.

And they are winning. Which means we are losing.

Allow me to say that again. They are winning. We are losing.

They have managed to take this great Jewish nation — a place of dynamism, creativity, humanity, innovation, celebration, warmth, spirituality, miraculous history, mystery, culture, vibrancy and fun, albeit with many, many flaws, tensions and wrongdoings — and turn it on the world stage into a country and people wholly perceived as illegitimate, criminal, fanatic, rigid, frightening, hateful and unjust.

That is quite an accomplishment. And an even greater success on this team’s behalf is that many of us Jews — certainly the next generation — are now coloring the Zionist and Israeli enterprise with their hues.

This brilliant team also recognizes change and acts upon it in a way we Jews, Israelis and Zionists do not. In an ever evolving, technological world, the battlefront for Israel’s security and legitimacy is as dependent upon its media war as much as it is upon its ground, air and sea strategies. If we lose the media battle for the hearts and minds of the world and a new generation, can Israel survive the political, military and economic manifestations of that loss?

Through its ideas, this team has created the public framework and we follow. It leads and we react. We chase. We are playing inside the media frame that this team has established for us. We are squabbling among ourselves after each of its successes. We publicly accuse one another before the international media. We play out our internal issues of “Do we act with democratic values or a victim’s mentality? Do we believe in our legitimacy as a nation or do we need to debunk Zionist mythology?”

Strictly from a marketing perspective of people on the losing side of a battle, when marketing is the battle, these are all strategies of failure.

But there is another aspect to those strategies of failure. As Israel is now on the losing side of a critical battle, every action the country takes will be under a media microscope and scrutiny. In this environment, Israel must be certain that the product it is marketing is indeed a solid, good one for media consumption. If media is among the determining wars, then Israel will have to revise some of its policies — particularly ones that in media will overshadow its good characteristics, no matter what the defenses of that policy are.

Each action Israel takes today must consider the media war and how it plays. The days of saying “Who cares what the world thinks?” are over. What the world thinks matters for Israel’s security and future.

There is no right or left here. There is the media war and what plays and what does not. In marketing, that must be the consideration. Is recognizing that Israel’s existence is threatened and its legitimacy under media attack — and that Jews should not weaken the country’s image by playing out their internal wars on the international front — a right-wing strategy? Is recognizing that in order to battle against the winner that Israel may have to change some of its policies to a left-wing strategy? Categorizing and boxing in our thinking, and then defending our naive positions, is part of what has led us to be the loser.

As a marketer, I see a long list of losing strategies that we Jews have been following.

They are coordinated. We are not. They have someone or some team in charge. We do not. In the Jewish world, as we say, even in this crucial battle, every Jew is making Shabbos for himself. It’s a cute, heimishe characteristic, but a very losing strategy. The Israeli government has its role. The Israel Foreign Ministry’s Israel Branding has its role. AIPAC has its role. AJC has its role. CAMERA has its role. The Israel Project has its role. Israel 21C has its role. The federations have their roles. The foundations have their roles. The campus organizations have their roles. The left has its strategies. The right has its strategies.

We’re in a serious, life-threatening battle and there is no coordination of the troops. There is little communication between them. There are egos of all the organizations, and its generals each discount the value of the other one and ultimately want to be the Moshiach and King and Queen of the Jews.

Their team has big, coordinated creative ideas that capture world media attention. We Jews are a people of ideas. Where are our big, coordinated ideas? Where is our mechanism to create them? Who are the people in charge of creating those ideas? Who are the implementers? Can we as a group ever listen to a team in charge and play a role that supports a group effort? This is the most difficult strategy we would have to follow.  If we cannot learn to do this, we will continue to lose. In this case, if there is not unity of effort, we cede the ground to the other side.

Each organization may be winning some individual battles, but are we as a group winning the war? Have we succeeded in the big picture? As of today, the grand word here, painted across all our aggregated marketing efforts in the world arena: LOSER!

We are in a very dangerous situation. We have created it, not them. The competitive spirit in me as a professional marketer combined with my Jewish and Zionist passions will not allow me to sleep nor slumber.

Let’s begin the real work.

Gary Wexler is the owner of Passion Marketing, consulting with some of the largest nonprofits in the world, including many in Jewish life. He is a JTA board member.