Wholesome Marketing Ideas, Bite Size

Wholesome marketing ideas, bite size

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Victims of Marketing

The In Flanders Fields museum in Ypres, Belgium, is a stark reminder of the folly of war. The unmistakable message one comes away with is that war is tragic; war is a mistake. One we should not repeat. Yet, as I emerged from the museum’s somber lighting and thought-provoking exhibits into the afternoon sunshine, it was hard not to think of the number of times the mistake has been repeated with disastrous and devastating consequences.

Is marketing to blame?

Yes, marketing takes its share of blame; and we all take the blame for being taken in by marketing.

Look around you in early November for the unmistakable signs of war-marketing. Old warriors are heralded as heroes, war is rationalized, sanitized, even glorified; victors are remembered, enemies airbrushed out of the picture (were there no heroes or innocent victims on the other side?). "Support our troops" and "Respect their sacrifice" -- are the dominant tag lines.

But consider this blasphemous thought for a second. Almost as many electricians in Canada lost their lives in their line of work over the past decade, as Canadian soldiers who laid down their lives in service in Afghanistan. Both professions are voluntary enlistment jobs that recruit adults who understand the risks. Yet there are no memorial monuments dedicated to electricians. People do not wear a socket or three-pronged plug in memory of their sacrifices. No special day commemorates their service to the people; highways are not named after them. Their funerals do not attract ceremony or media. In other words, no marketing effort goes in to the glorification of the loss of life. 

Why the discrepancy? Because war requires marketing. War is vigorously marketed because, left to its own merits, the product would likely fail. It wouldn’t catch on. The cost-benefit ratio doesn’t work. You don’t get what you pay for.
 "A Mother and Her Dead Son," by K├Ąthe Kollwitz, Neue Wache, Berlin
The price the population is asked to pay is heavy: the lives of the youngest, ablest, brightest, bravest, and best of its citizens.  The poppy marks their sacrifice. 

But over time, the message changes. The marketing of war focuses on its putative benefits. The poppy undergoes a subtle transformation from a symbol that meant “lest we forget the horrors of war” to a logo that stands for the respect we owe the men and women in uniform who act as a bulwark that protects our rights, land, and liberty.

Marketing is required to turn the job of killing people that have temporarily been designated “the enemy” into: (1) a duty to the flag (a mighty logo), (2) a show of patriotism, and (3) the work of committed professionals to whom we owe a debt. Fatalities in the line of duty are marketed on the evening news as the ultimate sacrifice that pays for our freedom.

But let us not forget that our freedom ultimately rests on our willingness to ask tough questions and get straight answers from our government. The glorification of war, our troops, and veterans has the opposite effect: it stifles public debate. It inhibits us from seeking the accountability that we democratically demand from most other government activities. It prevents us from asking questions, such as: why is it that with hundreds of lives sacrificed, trillions of dollars spent on 21st century warfare technology, complete control of the air and airwaves, years of high caliber training, and expensive, hi-tech logistics our armies are being chased out by a ragtag bunch of tribesmen in sandals, armed with Kalashnikovs and home-made bombs?

Have we given up on accountability because we're taken in by marketing? Have we traded our freedom for a tag line and a logo?

This November 11th, spare a thought for the victims of marketing.

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Photo credits: 
Poppies: http://www.freefoto.com/index.jsp; "Mother and her dead son" Sculpture, Niraj Dawar, Berlin, 2011.


Kamal said...

Very thoughtful.

Carmen Lam said...

Marketing is effective only if the audience is receptive.

Baldev Raj Dawar said...

Wars are basically fought to plunder scares resources of life and to protect and secure your possessions. The ugliness of war, and the bloodshed and misery involved in it, is not on the minds of the contestants. They no doubt market the wars as disputes, acts of self defense,vindication of national pride, holy crusades and jihads etc. and whip up passions of patriotic and religious fervor to marshal the armies but the real motives are tribal greed, fear and aggression. Don't blame the marketing.

Hopefully all this is going to change in the coming few decades. Thanks to the rapid advances in science and technology we are very soon entering upon an era of unprecedented abundance. There will be enough and to spare for all mankind and for each one of us. Additionally, certain real threats to life at global level will unite mankind as never before. Along with it an era of peace and tranquility will dawn.
Baldev Raj

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