WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Like the maker of an out-of-favor car or sneaker, the U.S. military needs a new “branding” campaign to earn civilian support in Iraq, Afghanistan and other hot spots, a report for the Pentagon said on Tuesday.
“We will help you” could be the pitch, said the 211-page survey by RAND Corp., a nonprofit research group that carries out many studies for the Defense Department.
It said the U.S. military “brand” had been tarnished by, among other things, images of Abu Ghraib prison; the U.S. military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; and post-invasion gaps in getting Iraqi civilians electricity and clean water.
U.S. forces should heed product “positioning” and branding lessons from such consumer-savvy powerhouses as Lexus, Ritz-Carlton hotels and Nike, said the report.
The study was ordered by the U.S. Joint Forces Command, which helps steer military modernization.
“It’s not just a matter of putting the right ‘spin’ on U.S. military actions,” said Todd Helmus, a behavioral scientist and the report’s lead author. “It’s synchronizing what we say with what we do.”
Since before World War II, the military has developed a mystique based on brute force, said the study, titled “Enlisting Madison Avenue: The Marketing Approach to Earning Popular Support in Theaters of Operation.”
“Like commercial firms that must update unattractive brand identities, so too should the United States consider updating its military’s brand identity to suit current and future operational environments,” the report said.
The use of “brute force has hindered operational success in both Iraq and Afghanistan,” it said.
In Afghanistan, NATO and U.S.-led coalition forces have been criticized for a surge in civilian casualties and Afghan President Hamid Karzai has warned that patience with foreign troops is wearing thin.
The report’s research is based on interviews with current and former practitioners from military public affairs, civil affairs, information operations and psychological operations, as well as with 25 marketing professionals in business and academia.
Its recommendations could apply to peacekeeping-style operations as well as wars.
The “we will help you” line is the brainchild of Keith Reinhard, chairman emeritus of DDB Worldwide, a leading global advertising agency, the report said.
“It is a promise that can be kept,” the authors said. “And because it positions the United States as a partner of indigenous populations, it does not usurp their authority, dignity or responsibility.”
Helmus said in a telephone interview that “We will help you” was just an example of a potential branding concept rather than a RAND Corp. recommendation.
The Norfolk, Virginia-based Joint Forces Command will use the study to explore possible responses to “current urban challenges,” said Duane Schattle, director of the command’s Joint Urban Operations Office.