A Nightmare on the 51st Street

In an earlier post, I tried to write about my reaction to CAN’s decision to use Turkish Flag on a 9/11 documentary, and Turkey’s close association with Islam. My main point for the former issue was that 9/11 should be seen as a tragedy that deeply affected the humankind and we should all learn what extremism is capable of doing. The latter issue was dealing with Turkey’s image and the recent shift in the country’s image. Well, after receiving thousands of angry mails, CAN decided to change the poster and the cover of DVD……and right now we have the flags of Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran, Sudan and Syria.

In a very ‘noble’ crisis communication attempt, CAN explained why Turkey was chosen at first: “the presence of the Islamic star and crescent on the flag”. They might have overlooked the fact that the aforementioned Islamic star and crescent are a little bit different than the contemporary Turkish flag. Ottoman Empire, indeed, used a flag very similar to that of Turkish Republic – and there you are able to see the Islamic symbols. But even if you find a symbol that perfectly reflects ‘Islam’, do you want to put it on the cover of an anti-terrorism DVD? Or is the documentary anti-Islam? anti-Islamic countries? anti-anything that resonates with Islam? (PS: For instance, Al-Qaeda has a flag)

After their decision to put several more random flags to the poster, it is very difficult to take CAN seriously, and argue rationally. Therefore, I’ll just talk about the impact of ‘crazy’ organizations on nations’ images and their ability to raise hatred among people. CAN made headlines in several newspapers in a couple of countries. In other words, CAN managed to create an image where the collapsed building are associated with Turkey, Islam, and right now with Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran, Sudan, and Syria (by the way seriously why not Iraq? I mean the pre-liberated Iraq.). Classical crisis communication strategies advise policy makers to take corrective actions. In other words, Turkish authorities (in this specific case Turkish people who feel responsible for their country’s image) should warn CAN, tell what is wrong about the imagery, and ask for an apology. Most of the time, these strategies reach a settlement point. However, if you are dealing with a crazy organization, what can you do?

One path of action would be to ignore the situation. But as CAN gained publicity, it is a mistake to ignore them. Another strategy is to create a grassroots movement that target CAN’s target audience. So, we can take CAN out of the equation and tell about CAN’s mistake to the people who are going to see or who are interested in seeing the movie.

Lastly, humor or humorous critic might be an effective way of counter-arguing. As I said, it is very difficult to rationally argue with an organization that apologizes for “the use of only the Turkish flag on the cover of the film”. For instance, next time you want to feel like calling some a ‘crazy-ignorant-xenophobic idiot’, you can ask them whether they support CAN or not. Anyway, before ending this post, I would like to suggest some other symbols that should be included: Baklava, Humus, Kebab, Egyptian Pyramids, Republic of Balkavia from American Dad

Long story short, there is a problem with the Turkish image and this documentary is exacerbating the issue. Moreover, CAN is encouraging hatred among American people. This sounds like a perfect opportunity to become active citizens in our societies.


Sacrificed Survivors: Recreated Xenophobia

There is a new documentary coming up, “Sacrificed Survivors: the Untold Story of the ground Zero Mosque”. October 28th will be the premiere of this documentary but it already created some controversy. I want to raise two points here, first one about the approach of the documentary, and the second one about the Turkish flag used in the cover and posters. Quick disclaimer, I did not have the opportunity to see the documentary in its entirety. This is why my comments are based on the trailer, comments, and other descriptions. The project director describes, for instance, the documentary as “a 45-minute film that is fueled by the testimony of the survivors and the families of the victims of the attacks of September 11, 2001. It is about how they feel about the mosque being built on the site where their loved ones lost their lives”. In order to “protect America’s religious and moral heritage”, an ‘undercover’ team goes to the mosque, then creates a collage with the footage from the mosque, interviews with the survivors and the families of the victims who don’t like the Islamic Center, and a Turkish flag.

I have an Israeli friend who shared his military experience with me. As part of their training, they visited some of the concentration camps in Europe. While my take on the issue was based on nationalism, his was very universal. I thought about strengthening the nationalism in Israel. He said, if Israeli youth can see what extreme nationalism is capable of doing, the world would be a better place. Here again, we witnessed an atrocious event. 9/11 deeply affected everyone, it changed the way we looked at the world. Now, we have two options again. We can draw lessons from 9/11, we can see what fundamentalism is capable of doing. Or, we can start the blame game. Apparently, Christian Action Network, decided to do the latter.

The trailer, together with Christian Action Network’s name and motto, creates an us vs. them based on religion. Decorated by news pieces from Fox News, several messages point to Islamic take over of the United States. Shortly, no – this attack was not only on Americans. Just like any other terrorist attack, this one was also on humanity. 9/11 could and should be used as a case to see what fundamentalist religious (not only Islamic) thoughts can lead to… If you are curious about what extreme nationalism based on hatred towards a group can lead up to, take a long historical journey back to Third Reich.

My second point, Turkish flag on the cover, also shows us how close Turkish brand is to Islam. As far as I know, Turkey had nothing to do with 9/11. Turkish national flag is unique. The older Ottoman flags were closely associated with Islam and were sometimes used as religious symbols. But Turkish flag does not have such a function. Then again, Christian Action Network did not mind using Turkish flag to represent (what I would say) the Islamic ‘conquest’ of Ground Zero. The mere fact that an action network can confuse the flag with a religious symbol is alarming (well, Christian Action Network seems to be a ‘fair & balanced’ organization but still, this seems to be a problem)

Long story short, let’s stop playing the blame game and pointing fingers. 9/11 should be seen as a tragedy uniting humankind, not as a tool to legitimize xenophobia and discrimination. Also, a lesson for Turkish brand – we need to come up with a country image. I am not claiming that we should ignore religion but we should have an image that is not so closely associated with it.

Oh, here is Peter Griffin’s take on Ground Zero… Now, I can understand him better.

PS: Also, knowing more about the symbols we are using in our projects….won’t hurt.

Chilean miners rescued: Viva Chile (and Chilean image)

We have been all exposed to several images from Chile during the last few days and learned a lot about the 33 miners, who were rescued after being trapped in a mine clash for over two months. We learned about the miners’ background stories, their experiences, and watched how they returned back to life as President Piñera said. Being aware of its emotional nature and sensitivity, I will not treat the issue as a purely branding practice. Though I believe as a scholar, it is my obligation to highlight some aspects of this triumph of human spirit.

I tried to run a quick keyword frequency analysis on newspaper titles about Chile from 1980s onwards. Chile’s name has never been so close to human spirit, and triumph. Thanks to this magnificent rescue operation, the country will be known for the value it places on human life and for its technical capabilities at least for the upcoming weeks, if not longer. In terms of branding, it is possible to find similarities between this operation and ‘events’ branding, meaning hosting international events – such as the Olympics.

Now, let’s back up a little bit. Let’s forget about the accident and the rescue mission. Let’s go back to May 2010. What do we know about Chile? Personally, all I can say is I believe Chilean peppers are from Chile, Pinochet is a ‘bad’ guy, and Chileans know how to play football (soccer). And here is what happened after the rescue attempt: A major newspaper (NY Times) said “the rescue of the miners this week shows how much Chile has evolved since Pinochet’s rule ended in 1990.” Chilean authorities made their best to impress the media, too. The illustration below, provided by CNN, shows the map of the ‘village’ constructed during the rescue mission. Not surprisingly, the plan includes a designated press room. When the miners reached the surface (wearing the same t-shirt, and looking very clean), they were greeted by their families, the President, several spectators, and of course an army of nearly 1500 journalists. With the help of ‘human aspect’ of the story and successful media management, we stopped asking questions about the causes of the accident, and just enjoyed the glory of humankind over nature.

In short, the incident brought short term high volume media attention to Chile (’15 minutes of fame’ for a country). Chilean authorities were able to use this opportunity very strategically to transmit a modern, caring, unified image of their country to the world.

A perfect rescue mission, and a flawless media management! Let’s enjoy the recently polished brand image of Chile!

Social Diplomacy: This time on the streets…

As you might already know, I am working as the political communication consultant for Turkayfe.org project. Turkayfe is a Web 2.0 based online platform that invites people to share their experiences about Turkey with the community. Our main is to brand Turkey through people’s perspectives. Instead of using mass media and mass persuasion methods, we aim to reach a brand image through telling stories about the country. We label our attempt as a social diplomacy project. Even though, Turkayfe.org mainly utilizes online communication methods, it is important not to forget that social diplomacy is inherently a ‘social’ understanding of public diplomacy, and requires face-time with the target audiences.
Last Sunday, we were at the Turkish Festival in Washington, DC. We set up a table for Turkayfe, and made our first contact with the community in Washington, DC. The Turkish expats and students in the United States, as well as American citizens interested in Turkey are two of our main target audiences. Therefore, the festival was a great opportunity for us to connect with the community. You can read more about our impressions here and here.

Shortly speaking, social diplomacy projects taking place at a grassroots level cannot survive through solely online communication technologies. The projects need to ‘solidify’, in other words, the projects should focus on creating a real community around the idea who will eventually contribute to the online communication attempts.

The people in the post photo are (from left to right) Forest and Karalyn (alumni of Bilkent University), Gizem (our founder), and me.

Here are some of my observations after spending one day at the festival and engaging with the community:
– Communication is an important aspect of project management, especially if we are running public/social diplomacy or nation/place branding projects.
– Face-to-face communication enables us to get direct feedback from people about the project.
– Giving a face to the project increases your credibility. You are no longer only a website, you are the people who are running the website.
– Meeting people who are interested in the project, who love to talk about your project definitely increases the motivation of the team members.

This blog post is also posted on http://placebranding.ning.com/