Branding – the art of conditioning an audience to associate a given product, person or idea with a desired cognitive or emotional response – can be an important part of developing messages. The U.S. attempted to “brand” itself after 9/11, but after some innovative attempts with negligible results, quietly abandoned the effort. The idea, however, is sound. In the commercial marketplace of ideas, branding is a proven path to success, and the failure to brand can put one out of business. It is time to try branding again, but this time the U.S. should start with a message that its audiences are most likely to accept readily: the evil nature of the enemy. Reinforcement of that negative “brand” sets the stage for greater audience receptivity to positive follow-on messages about the United States itself.
Campaign veterans say that the systematic telling of unpleasant truths about the opponent, what some call negative campaigning, can be crucial – if you can’t win, at least you can make your opponent lose – despite the wishes of the candidate and usually the electorate, for more positive and genteel messages. Here is where third-party voices again become important, where others can create and sustain powerful negative messages against the opponent while keeping the candidate and his persona (or in the war effort, the United States or the president and top leaders) above the unseemliness of it all.
Branding the enemy