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Branding Also Key in War Effort
by James H. Burnett III, [IMAGE]2005

ARTICLE ORIGINALLY APPEARED AT MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL / JSONLINE.COM, March 29, 2003

[IMAGE] Names with positive imagery help military in public relations battle

So how important to the U.S. military are names like tomahawk and patriot missiles, and Operation Iraqi Freedom?

As important as like a rock is to Chevrolet, March Madness is to basketball, and Air Force One is to Nike.

And while pickup trucks, hoops tournaments and flashy shoes are hardly as important as national security, military weapons and war, all share a history of success.

Success due not just to best-ing opponents, but also to describing how to win.

Marketing and advertising experts call it name branding or product branding - creating an image that helps consumers understand the "goodness" of a product.

And military historians? Well, some are calling it the same thing.

In the current conflict in Iraq, "Operation Iraqi Freedom," U.S. military officials have introduced at least a dozen new brands, including A-Day, G-Day, S-Day, embedded, MOAB and shock and awe.

A-Day is the introduction of shock-air assaults to a conflict, G-Day the introduction of ground troops, and S-Day the introduction of special forces. Embedded refers to the placement of journalists within a battalion or squadron.

MOAB formally stands for Massive Ordnance Air Blast, a 21,000-pound conventional bomb, but it's already been nicknamed Mother Of All Bombs - an apparent jab at Iraqi President Saddam Hussein for his 1991 declaration that the first Gulf War would be the "mother of all wars."

And shock and awe defines the strategy of massive overwhelming air attacks that the strategy's authors have said are the non-nuclear equivalent to the impact of the World War II bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan.

As targeting goes, for the most part in this fledgling war with Iraq, the missiles have hit theirs: Iraqi troops and government strongholds in that country and news consumers worldwide.

Experts say if the U.S. military plans to win the public relations war, too, it will have to balance power and positive imagery by branding major elements of the war in a way that doesn't anger, confuse or alienate supporters. Recognized after Vietnam

U.S. military leaders began recognizing the importance of branding after the Vietnam conflict, said Craig M. Cameron, a history professor at Old Dominion University and Vietnam-era military historian.

"Obviously for official purposes, languages and names are appropriate to what an institution wants to promote," Cameron said. "Where there is a sidewinder missile, for example, that promotes power and speed by its name. You'd never want to name a weapon muskrat. . . . What occurs to me immediately are the differences not just in operational names, but the differences in the military and the people assigning the names today, compared to past conflicts."

Lt. Gen. Matthew Ridgeway, who commanded American troops in the Korean War, used operational names like Ripper and Killer, Cameron said.

"There's no way that would happen today, because military leaders are, first, more aware of the public eye," he continued, "and, second, more understanding of the fact that missions for a good cause need to be portrayed as such."

But not all military branding is formal in nature, Cameron said. Brands like jarheads and leathernecks for U.S. Marines and burp guns and pigs and saws for machine guns are rooted in old-fashioned camaraderie-building.

"Nicknames tend to be personal. A name gets assigned to you," Cameron said, "and you really don't have much choice. You may end up with a nickname you don't like, but it will likely be something that eases tension and brings people together if everyone in your unit can laugh at it. It's part of a bonding ritual.

"As for the weapons, it really is just about relaying an image of power and strength - to remind people at home that the troops are well-equipped to win and to even remind the enemy, perhaps, that the troops are well-equipped enough to beat them."

Scott Gold knows a thing or two about brands and nicknames. As chief operating officer of the Washington, D.C.-based The Brand Consultancy, Gold has helped define and shape the images of companies such as Saab Motors, Staples, PNC Bank and the National Geographic Channel.

And to Gold, Americans and foreign nationals likely understand and support the notion of removing a cruel government and destroying its big weapons to stabilize a region, protect a downtrodden people and ensure a greater degree of world peace.

The problem, Gold said, is that "Operation Iraqi Freedom" may not adequately relay that message.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Gold explained, a recurring theme with U.S. government and military officials has been the need to eliminate terrorists worldwide. But Operation Iraqi Freedom suggests a narrowing of government focus from bad guys everywhere to bad guys in Iraq.

"Currently, you have 'Operation Iraqi Freedom,' and it's confusing," he said. "It refers to the fact that they're doing this to free the people of Iraq. Yet, a lot of this has been about how you can't allow rogue governments to have weapons of mass destruction. It's a disconnect. To a certain extent, just that name loses a sense of purpose and leaves people confused."

A better brand for the conflict, Gold said, would be "Operation Global Freedom."

That name, he said, would better portray that coalition leaders are "on a mission to free the world of rogue nations having weapons of mass destruction and to free the world of terrorism."

What corporations and governments alike must avoid is "creating a disconnect" between their constituents and their product, Gold said.

In the business world, an example would be Cadillac recognizing several years ago that the average Cadillac owner was in his mid- to late 70s.

"Which obviously doesn't bode well for the future of any company," Gold said. "But they were able to create products that younger consumers could buy as well. The Cadillac Escalade is the hottest SUV out there right now with young people who aspire to own a luxury SUV." Code names

As important as war lexicon is, it wasn't always meant to win over the general public, others say.

According to Joe Buff, a defense commentator and military novelist, the most vivid examples of branding through operational code names can be traced back to the two atomic-bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end World War II. He said in that era, the primary goal of creative operational names was to deceive the enemy, not inform or impress the public.

"It used to be they were intended as a quick and convenient reference to a classified project or war attack plan that enemy spies would be unable to figure out if they heard of it," Buff said. "Originally they were going to be called Fat Man and Thin Man in honor of Winston Churchill and FDR."

Fat Man, Buff said, also was named simply for its shape - a "plutonium-design weapon" whose "basic physics package was a big, fat sphere." And Thin Man, he explained, also was named for being a "long, cylindrical mechanism that was comparatively thin. When then-President Franklin Delano Roosevelt died in office, Thin Man was renamed Little Boy.

Another early example of military branding? The United States 1942 atom bomb testing and development project known as the Manhattan Engineering District.

It was later shortened to the Manhattan Project.

And before they settled on Operation Overlord as the name for the mission to retake Western Europe and take down Hitler, World War II allied commanders first had operations Sledge Hammer and Bolero.

According to Buff, U.S. military leaders today have wisely stuck to what they know works: patriotic catch phrases with very clear meanings.

"For instance, Operation Desert Shield was the name for the six-month buildup to the actual first Gulf War with Iraq," Buff said.

"It defined the buildup as something specific and purposeful, hence making it sound more concrete and fathomable for laymen," while at the same time it expressed the operation's purpose: to prevent Hussein's army from invading Saudi Arabia.

"Operation Desert Storm - this was meant to express quick, decisive action."

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