Friction

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Making Mad Men Pay

Can advertisers learn from al Qaeda?

February 28, 2012, brings a New York Times article by David Dunlap titled "A Season Premiere, a Falling Man and Memories of 9/11." Mr Dunlap begins from a picture of a New York City billboard with a black cutout of a falling man at the top and 25 March printed at the bottom. Here is his opening (http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/02/28/a-season-premiere-a-...).

In the visual vortex around Seventh Avenue and 34th Street, it takes a lot to stand out, but a rooftop billboard at 30th Street stands out. It shows a lone human figure seemingly tumbling from the windows above. And not everyone who sees it thinks, "Oh, that's Don Draper, which means the season premiere of ‘Mad Men' must be approaching."

Mr. Dunlap goes on to quote interviews with those who lost loved ones on 9/11. Most of those quoted found the billboard an offensive reminder of their loss. What's going on here?
This is jujitsu politics corporate style. To understand the corporate version, it is convenient to begin with the strategy behind al Qaeda's attacks on 9/11.

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Jujitsu politics uses a shocking attack to elicit an over-reaction that helps the attackers. This was the strategy of Al Qaeda on 9/11, as described by Usama bin Laden's right hand man, Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, in his political autobiography titled Knights under the Prophet's Banner.

The masters in Washington and Tel Aviv are using the regimes [their puppet governments in Muslim countries] to protect their interests and to fight the battle against the Muslims on their behalf. If the shrapnel from the battle reach their homes and bodies, they will trade accusations with their agents about who is responsible for this. In that case, they will face one of two bitter choices: Either personally wage the battle against the Muslims, which means that the battle will turn into clear-cut jihad against infidels, or they reconsider their plans after acknowledging the failure of the brute and violent confrontation against Muslims. (http://web.archive.org/web/20060717194717/http://faculty.msb.edu/...)

Jujitsu politics uses the enemy's strength against him. In al-Qaeda's case, the strategy of 9/11 was to elicit a U.S. reaction that would bring U.S. troops into Muslim lands, a reaction that would do what bin Laden and al Zawahiri had failed to do at home in Saudi Arabia and Egypt: mobilize Muslims for jihad against Americans. We live in a world in which this strategy is still working, even as drone attacks replace U.S. boots on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But jujitsu politics is not just for terrorists. It can work for corporate competitions as well. AMC, the network that shows the Mad Men series, had a ready response for Dunlap to print.

"The image of Don Draper tumbling through space has been used since the show began in 2007 to represent a man whose life is in turmoil. The image used in the campaign is intended to serve as a metaphor for what is happening in Don Draper's fictional life and in no way references actual events."

Look at the article from AMC's point of view. Do they know that their falling-man image can elicit shock and horror in New York City? Surely they do. Are they worried about the kind of reaction that journalist Dunlap sought and found? Surely they think the free advertising for the new season premiere of Mad Men is worth more than the cost of being drawn as callous and insensitive.

Of course Mr. Dunlap participated in the reaction to AMC's advertisement, and indeed got in touch with families of 9/11 victims to solicit their reactions. He participates also in the value of the reaction to the extent that he has a New York Times article that many will read and cite.

Lastly, I too am trying to profit from AMC's attack on the feelings of 9/11 families, and Mr. Dunlap's journalistic forwarding of the attack. I hope that broader public understanding of jujitsu politics may reduce its power. In particular I hope to reinforce the non-reactive reaction of one of Mr. Dunlap's interviewees.

"I am so worn out by you guys coming to us in order to create a kerfuffle where none exists," wrote Rita Lasar, whose brother was Abraham J. Zelmanowitz. "You may think you are being sensitive to our feelings, but in reality you are just using us so you can write a story that refers only to your own feelings."

Jujitsu politics aims to profit by anguish and outrage. When they make us mad, they make us pay. Can we just say no?

For more visuals, see
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2108253/Mad-Men-creators-...

 

Clark McCauley, Ph.D., is Rachel C. Hale Professor of Sciences and Mathematics and co-director of the Solomon Asch Center for Study of Ethnopolitical Conflict at Bryn Mawr College. more...

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