Marketing Israel: Is it the campaign, or does the product suck?

A study shows that Israel’s tarnished image has nothing to do with its Hasbara mechanism. Actually, the reason for the failure is pretty straightforward.

Some ad companies can do miracles. They can actually do the impossible: sell a bad product.

The easiest examples come from the food industry. Take Coke, or McDonald’s burgers. These are products that are known to be unhealthy. Yet, the Mad Men still somehow get these companies to sell, sell, sell.

Israel has its own ad company. It’s an enormous, cross-ministry-organization apparatus known as Hasbara.

Yet, despite being one of the most successful propaganda machines ever made, Israel’s image in the world is tarnished. So, is there a problem with Hasbara? According to a study published today by the Molad think tank… no!

It is clear from an analysis of the data that the commonly held belief, obsessively reiterated by senior officials, that Israel has a “hasbara problem”, is fundamentally incorrect. The success or failure of the hasbara apparatus must be evaluated based on the relevant goals and standards of such an apparatus. This paper shows that, in light of the Israeli hasbara apparatus’s efficiency and sophistication as evaluated based on its goals and standards, one cannot attribute Israel’s poor international status and image to insufficient and inefficient hasbara.

The conclusion of this study is that the “hasbara problem” is a myth that diverts focus from Israel’s real problems which are the results of problematic policy, not flawed hasbara of appropriate policy.

Apparently, there’s just no way to spin Israel’s policies in a good way.

This conclusion reminded me of David Sable, Global CEO of Y&R, “one of the world’s leading global marketing communications companies, with 186 offices in 90 countries.” Sable was interviewed in 2009 on many topics by JInsider, including his perspective on the marketing of Israel.

I found these seven minutes to be fascinating. In 2009, I probably agreed a lot with what Sable said back then. But since then I’ve veered more to the left, and there are probably more than a few things Sable and I disagree with politically today.

Furthermore, at times, it seems that some of his critique was not a critique of Israeli policy itself, but more a critique of how Israel “allows” the policy to look. As I watched Sable speak, there were a few moments that  reminded me of the soldiers in the West Bank who recently complained that the presence of cameras as they are policing the territories is their own personal “kryptonite.” If only those darn cameras weren’t there, they’d be able to take care of things the right way.

Yet what I like most of this clip is Sable’s ability to look at the issue at hand purely from a professional marketing view. He does this quite successfully, for the most part, admitting that at times his analysis may sound like a political stance. His bottom line, as he says, is: “It is what it is!”

How true. The brutal occupation is a brutal occupation. The eviction of a family from Sheikh Jarrah is exactly that. The murder of a protester by shooting a tear gas canister directly at his chest is a murder. The expansion of a settlement is the expansion of a settlement. The dropping of a bomb on a Gazan family is exactly that.

There’s no way it can look good. Sable’s words from 2009 are as relevant today as they were then.

You might be Don Draper. But sometimes, no matter how good you are, you’re just stuck with a bad product.

Hasbara: Why does the world fail to understand us?