Vice News, by Landon Shroder, July 14, 2015:
Healing the Chests of the Believing People is a July 4th summer blockbuster offering by the Islamic State (IS). The 10 minute video chronicles the fate of 25 Syrian soldiers as they are led from Tadmur Prison to the ancient Palmyra Amphitheater where, in front of the black flag of IS, they are executed by what appears to be a group of teen-age soldiers.
IS knows that this video, along with other recent death cult recruiting video classics like:Punish Them Severely to Disperse Those Who Are Behind Them, A Message Signed with Blood To the Nation of the Cross, and Healing the Souls with the Slaughtering of the Spy (Part 2, no less) will inspire people to join their cause of revolutionary social change (of the bloody jihad variety) — just like thousands of other Westerners already have.
Videos like these represent just one piece of IS’s global marketing campaign, which also consists of monthly magazines, documentaries, and nasheeds http://messages, as well as online forums, blogs, postings on the ever-ubiquitous social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, and even their own short-lived Arab-language app, The Dawn of Glad Tidings, that, once downloaded, automatically posted tweets by IS to a user’s personal Twitter account.
Welcome to the propaganda war with IS — a war that is central to their defeat, and a war that the US isn’t winning.
But how does IS sell their message? How does it get people from comfortable backgrounds in the US and Europe to give up everything and join a movement so infused with violence and brutality?
The answer ultimately resides with the kinds of marketing strategies used by advertising agencies all over the world. In the most basic terms, IS is selling an idea the very same way a company would sell a product.
According to the last National Counterterrorism Center estimate released in February, almost 3,400 Westerners have traveled to Iraq and Syria to fight alongside IS. While some of these people would have found their way to the fight no matter what, it would be incorrect to assume that most have joined IS simply to satiate some kind of religious blood lust.
“Today people buy based on social conversation,” Brett Landry, creative director for DarkHorse Marketing, told VICE News. “Brands find success by placing themselves within the social conversation in meaningful or fun or shocking ways.”
Nowhere has this strategy been more successfully executed than in the horrifying media campaign run by IS’s publicity wing, al-Hayat Media Center.
The videos and images of beheadings, burnings, crucifixions, and mass executions have simultaneously revolted and enticed viewers, becoming a core component of their marketing strategy. Those who are attracted to these kinds of graphic media are initially drawn in by the production value, which is extraordinarily high compared to Al-Qaeda and other jihadist-produced propaganda of the past.
In contrast to al Qaeda’s videos, which were shot on shaky handheld cameras, IS uses sound design, special effects, rehearsed sequences, and multiple-angle scenes, as well as high-tech 5D cameras and professional editing teams.
The sensational videos take the viewer directly inside the war being waged by IS, much in the same way a video game or action movie would. This has allowed IS to situate themselves at the center of a worldwide conversation on religion, politics, and war, in a way that is entirely unencumbered by traditional communication strategies — particularly those that would rely exclusively on mainstream media to spread their message.
“The burnings, beheadings, and torture are really hard to look at, but we’re not the [target] audience,” Jason Smith, creative director for Magnetry, an advertising agency in Phoenix, told VICE News. “The brutality works in their favor because it proves their effectiveness. The darker the images, the more obvious the void or lack of someone preventing them.”
Marketing these atrocities has a two-fold propaganda value: IS is not only defining exactly who they are, but who they are not, as well, which resonates with a select group of people who equate extreme violence with power. More importantly, the brutality automatically narrows down the viewing audience, allowing the message to specifically target those who might be susceptible to radicalization.
Additionally, IS propaganda is produced in a way that allows it to be packaged for broadcast media and online video forums like YouTube, LiveLeak, and Vimeo. This ensures that at least some of the content will be replayed on mainstream news outlets, regardless of the subject matter.
Because of this, IS has developed a very effective and low-cost type of advertising campaign reliant on something called “earned media.” Earned media is about generating buzz — getting other people to talk about and push your agenda and story. This kind of marketing strategy fundamentally relies on the viral tendencies surrounding online “word of mouth” and comes in the form of mentions, shares, reposts, views, and third-party broadcasts, and acts as a force multiplier for any IS media project.
“The sole focus of an earned media campaign is to reach the maximum amount of viewers with the minimum amount of effort,” Landry told VICE News. “The US and world media are feeding on the content, and that’s huge earned media for ISIS…The more it’s talked about, the more free advertising they get.”
Using social media sites like Twitter contributes to the earned media campaign of IS by providing platforms to spread videos, documentaries, audio messages, and other propaganda products, and allowing users to interact and engage with those products instantly and continuously.
While there are no exact numbers available with regard to internet penetration by IS, according to the ISIS Twitter Census, released by the Brookings Institution in March 2015, at any one time, there are between 46,000 and 90,000 active IS Twitter accounts, each having an average of 1,004 followers who produce approximately 2,219 tweets during the account’s lifetime.
These accounts not only further disseminate IS propaganda, but allows recruiters to connect with potential volunteers in near real time, which has helped the IS brand reach a diverse global audience.
“There are units of specialized recruiters operating around the clock from internet cafes in Iraq and Syria, interacting on an individual level with prospective recruits,” Henry Tuck, program coordinator for Extreme Dialogue at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, told VICE News. “Content is expertly tailored to specific audiences in multiple languages, with propaganda aimed at women, converts to Islam, and even certain professions.”
- Why Are Russian Hackers Posing as ISIS Propagandists? (dailysignal.com)