IBM&ISIS (Digital Market Asia)


When my best friend’s mother, Mrs Ammeraal, found out I was going into advertising, she shook her head in commiseration. In her view, admen are one step above used-car salesmen in the professional ethics stakes – and even then she was being generous. Of course, it’s no secret that advertisers are nothing less than professional seducers, using their wiles to coax people into buying anything from hot dogs to Hummers. But sometimes they also use their wicked talents to raiseawareness of some of the Big Issues of our time. 

Case in point: many of the awareness-raising campaigns created in the Netherlands over the past 50-odd years by non-profit organisation SIRE – including campaigns to warn young people of the danger of fireworks and to protest violence against first responders such as policemen and firemen – have become part of the national consciousness. The Dutch public is also well familiar with other, similar campaigns initiated by the likes of the Kidney Foundation and Wakker Dier, an animal welfare group. And now, EU Counter-Terrorism Coordinator Gilles de Kerchove is looking to take this even further by hiring advertising professionals to launch a counterattack against jihadism. From IBM to ISIS, so to speak. 

De Kerchove wants to create a campaign depicting ISISas a band of sex-crazed rapists. 
Of course, this would only be adding oil to the flames,and besides, that campaign is already there – courtesy of ISIS themselves. Judging by their propaganda videos, the Caliphate is giving professional advertisers everywhere a run for their money. They came up with a strong concept, which they’ve managed to execute successfully and have efficiently distributed across the world. Sure enough, if they promised to behave, we’d have hired them yesterday. So we can’t help but wonder just how well our creative brains stack up against these seasoned pros. You certainly don’t want to mess with any of the big boys, whether you’re talking the Bible Belt, the Vatican, the Kremlin or the government of North Korea. There’s no point in trying to sway the true believers – that is their job, after all.
But that’s where the ancient art of aikido comes in: the Asian martial art where the key is not to attack your opponent from the front, but rather to throw them off balance by channelling their movements. And we feel that’s precisely what De Kerchove should be doing: instead of creating videos against the jihadists, he should do as they do/take his cue from them/get in sync with them/move in sync with them/‘sync up’ with them.He needs to understand that young Muslims who feel alienated from society and have no prospects are susceptible to joining ISIS. The only way to break through your opponent’s radical lines of defence is by putting yourself in their position. Those embracing the principles of aikido in this sense would do well to take a leaf from the Quran, which preaches the same commandments as the Bible, and from Islam, which condemns terrorism as a crime against humanity. Aikidoka also understand that any campaign cannot be imposed from the outside but must come from within, by giving a voice to respected imams, disillusioned defectors, or dissidents such as Tunahan Kuzu and Selçuk Öztürk, two Dutch citizens of Turkish descent who recently launched their own political party.

In making his appeal, De Kerchove has paid advertising professionals the biggest compliment of all. Let’s all vow not to let him – or Mrs Ammeraal – down.