IDF spending millions on ‘advertorial’ content in Israeli media

The IDF has spent NIS 28 million on advertising in various media outlets, despite claims to the contrary.

By Itamar Bazz

Israeli soldiers working on a computer. (IDF Spokesperson)
Israeli soldiers working on a computer. (IDF Spokesperson)

The Israel Defense Forces purchased advertorial content in media outlets, according to an investigation by The Seventh Eye. In an interview to radio station “Kol Ha’ayin” last year, IDF Spokesperson Moti Almoz said the army is not involved in purchasing advertorial content and that media outlets that publish IDF content do so for their own editorial reasons and without receiving any compensation. But data obtained by The Seventh Eye and the organization “Hazlacha” indicate that in certain cases IDF messaging is planted in advertorial content in exchange for payment.

The data indicates that in the last four years, the IDF spent NIS 28 million on advertising – over NIS 7 million a year on average. In addition, the IDF Spokesperson allocates a large portion of its resources to documenting and distributing “news” items, photographs and videos passed on to Israeli media outlets for publication, without request for compensation.

For example, in the summer of 2015, the free daily Israel Hayom began publishing a regular IDF column in which commanders of various military divisions explained to readers why it is worthwhile to enlist into units under their command. Ma’ariv also publishes an IDF column, in which soldiers recommend their favorite nature hikes.

In an interview with The Seventh Eye, IDF Spokesperson Moti Almoz said the army did not pay for these columns and clarified: “I don’t even have the technical capacity to pay media outlets for publishing something very positive and moving about the IDF. Certainly not.” And yet The Seventh Eye’s investigation demonstrates not only that the technical ability to pay media outlets to promote IDF messaging exists, but that it has been used.

While the instances in which the IDF paid for advertorial content did not appear in leading media outlets, they reveal a lot about the phenomenon in which the IDF is permeating the subliminal advertising world, which has in recent years been increasingly drawing its budgets from governmental bodies and businesses. Those who operate in this field give these kinds of deals the code word “cooperation.” In cases in which the paying entity is a governmental body, the appropriate term for the phenomenon is “covert propaganda.”

A few months ago, the nonprofit organization “Hazlacha” submitted a freedom of information request together with the Seventh Eye to the Government Advertising Bureau, requesting military representatives to hand over, among other things, data on IDF “cooperation” in which a monetary transaction was made with a media outlet. The data provided indicates that in 2015, over NIS 50,000 was allocated for “content cooperation” with the ultra-Orthodox radio stations Kol Chai and Kol BaRama.

The IDF also paid NIS 380,000 in 2014 for “cooperation” with the children’s television network, Nickelodeon Israel. A similar transaction took place in 2012 with the competing channel, The Kid’s Network. The IDF’s transaction with Nickelodeon financed a series of hasbara (Israeli government PR) commercials sponsored by Home Front Command that features several of the channel’s stars; a video on self-defense during emergency situations and an interactive page on the channels’ website.  According to the IDF, the funding provided to The Kid’s Network four years ago financed “quizzes on how to prepare for earthquakes” during a series called “The Real Place.”

The two ultra-Orthodox radio stations that received payment for advancing messaging by the Home Front Command also integrated quizzes into their broadcasts. The campaign for which they were paid money took place during the last Hanukkah holiday under the Talmudic slogan, “One must not depend on miracles,” and starred an animated redheaded ultra-Orthodox man called “Nissim” (miracles in Hebrew). The two radio stations that took part in the campaign didn’t explain to their listeners that an external entity had funded the messages.

The transaction with Kol BaRama, worth NIS 28,000, included sponsor messages with Home Front Command messaging and editorial airtime on the daily show, “The Wanted,” which was broadcast during Hanukkah. The host, Amiram Ben-Lulu, brought listeners on who told stories about “miracles” they experienced, but made sure to advise that miracles cannot be relied on – and that is why we should always prepare for emergencies in accordance with the Home Front Command regulations. After each listener concluded his or her story, they were given a quiz on self-defense during wartime, including expanded information on the desired response.

Radio Kol Chai, which published two pamphlets on its website during its Home Front Command campaign, received nearly NIS 26,000 for its “cooperation.” In this case, the Home Front Command quiz was integrated into a special program hosted by Asher Greiber, which aired midday. An actor who identified as “Nissim” presented the listeners with questions on emergency situations, and in one case even called the Home Front Command headquarters and tried to speak with one of the call center representatives – but was hung up on – apparently because they thought it was a prank.

The IDF spokesperson said that except for these four deals, the IDF has not had  “cooperation” agreements of this kind with any other media outlet in the last five years.

The Seventh Eye investigation shows that in recent years, the defense establishment’s advertising budget – which includes the IDF, Home Front Command and Ministry of Defense – stood at an average of NIS 8.7 million annually. The total budget between 2012-2015 was NIS 34.6 million. The majority of this amount was spent by the IDF, and a small portion by the Ministry of Defense. Most of the IDF’s advertising budget was dedicated to distributing information on behalf of the Home Front Command.

Until 2015, the IDF’s advertising budget was managed by two bodies: the Government Advertising Bureau, which handled ongoing advertising, and McCann, which handled the Home Front Command’s advertising between 2012-2014. The IDF’s total advertising and hasbara budget remains consistent. In 2012 it stood at NIS 6.8 million. In 2013, it went up to NIS 7.3 million and in 2014, up again to NIS 7.6 million. In 2015 however, the budget went down to NIS 6.1 million.

The Ministry of Defense’s budget has in recent years been in an upward trend. According to data provided to The Seventh Eye from the Defense Minister, in 2012, the advertising and hasbara budget was NIS 1.3 million. In 2013-2014, it was NIS 1.7 million annually, and in 2015, it went up to NIS 1.8 million. The Defense Ministry spokesperson said that the advertising budgets were allocated for “announcements and broadcasts exclusively,” and not for “cooperation” with any media outlet.

The data provided by the Government Advertising Bureau demonstrate that about 60 percent of the IDF’s advertising budget between 2012-2014 (this doesn’t include Home Front Command’s hasbara budget) was invested into digital communications, i.e. online: NIS 4.2 million of the total budget of NIS 7 million. Compared to the government’s total spending on advertising, this is an exceptional number: Data the Government Advertising Bureau provided last year indicates that the budgets allotted to online advertising during those years amounted to only 24 percent of the government’ advertising pie.

The second largest segment of the IDF’s advertising budget between 2012 and 2014 was allocated to print advertising. The IDF purchased a total of NIS 1.6 million in newspapers ads over three years. This is not a large amount, but it is double the amount allocated for television ads, which stood at NIS 852,000 – including one year (2013) in which not a single shekel was allotted for television space.

When you compare this to the data on general advertising spent by governmental bodies, this is an anomaly: During that period, the television networks got the biggest slice of the pie, with 35 percent. But the IDF only allocated 12 percent of its advertising budget to TV between 2012-2014.

It’s important to note that this data doesn’t include the Home Front Command’s advertising budget. In 2015, when the Government Advertising Bureau also began administering the Home Front Command’s advertising budget, about half of the budget was allocated to television ads: NIS 3.08 million of a total annual budget of NIS 6.1 million. The Government Advertising Bureau and IDF spokesperson refused to provide data on specific deals or the distribution of the budget among the various media outlets. According to the Government Advertising Bureau, it is a “commercial secret” and if revealed could “damage its financial interests.”

An itemized list of campaigns run by the Government Advertising Bureau for the IDF shows that most of them were dedicated to promoting enlistment in the military among youth. For example, the IDF financed commercials and ads targeting high school students to enroll in military boarding schools in Haifa, Or Etzion as well as military schools run by the Air Force. Another campaign tries to convince ultra-Orthodox youth to enlist in the army into tracks that provide professional training and completion of high school education. One ad that aired in 2016 for example, was designed not only to convince ultra-Orthodox youth to enlist but also convince the ultra-Orthodox public that a youth who has served is a more eligible bachelor for an arranged marriage.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews gather during a protest against their military conscription outside a military prison on December 9, 2013 in Atlit, Israel. Hundreds of Ultra-Orthodox Jews protested outside the prison following the arrest of a young man who refused to serve in the Israeli the army, September 12, 2013. (Photo by Yotam Ronen/
Ultra-Orthodox Jews gather during a protest against their military conscription outside a military prison on December 9, 2013 in Atlit, Israel. Hundreds of Ultra-Orthodox Jews protested outside the prison following the arrest of a young man who refused to serve in the Israeli the army, September 12, 2013. (Photo by Yotam Ronen/

The segmentation of ages detailed in the Government Advertising Bureau’s responses could explain the decision for allocated a significant amount of the budgets to online advertising: Extensive use of Facebook, which enables advertisers to choose age groups. The increase in resources allocated corresponds to the stated trend by the Government Advertising Bureau, which has in recent years allotted more and more budgets to online advertising.

Attorney Elad Mann, legal counsel to Hazlacha and chairman of the Seventh Eye, points to the concerns that arise from the “cooperation” between the media and the IDF. “The fact that both the IDF and the defense establishment choose to use marketing mechanisms testifies to the penetration of this promotional tool into the heart of public service, and highlights its effectiveness in the eyes of the state’s various arms,” he said.

“The way public relations budgets are managed and the different topics these official entities choose to promote is of great public interest, as is its financial and ethical significance,” Mann adds. “It is important to continue drawing a picture of the reality in this field in order to enable supervision over the level of disclosure applied to this content and to see how these public entities prioritize the issues they manage.”

This article was first published in Hebrew on The Seventh Eye.

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