Jim Armitage: Isis is refining terrorist marketing

Global Outlook: They know all about corporate branding in war zones

When it comes to media and marketing, Islamic terrorists are a savvy bunch. And it’s easy to see why. With the various movements all trying to get new recruits and jostling for recognition on the world political stage, it’s understandable that they should deploy similar techniques to sophisticated corporate brands to get their message heard.

A private intelligence outfit called The Soufan Group this week issued an excellent dispatch from Afghanistan about this very subject, in which you could quite easily have substituted the words “Coca-Cola” or “Pepsi” for “al-Qaeda” or “Isis”.

Or, perhaps more fittingly, “Microsoft” for al-Qaeda and “Apple” or “Google” for Isis.

For Soufan argues that the al-Qaeda brand, so massively dominant around the world since the 9/11 attacks in 2004, is in a long, slow decline. Even if the terrorist ideology behind it is spreading, the power of the name is now seriously reduced.

In its place, Isis, which has just undergone a rebranding of its own to proclaim itself as plain “IS”, or the “Islamic State”, is now massively in the ascendent.

Like many a young, disruptive entrant into a marketplace, the Isis “product” – the declaration of an Islamic caliphate in Iraq – was sneered at by the establishment (moderates and regional leaders). But, as Soufan points out, the establishment was never the target audience; the Isis leaders were sending a message to young potential extremists that here was a devout fighting force that had achieved tangible success, massively disrupting the old order.

You can see the equivalents in the corporate world: the holy grail for many advertisers is to find ways of connecting to the next generation of young adults. Hence the success of the expletive-laden media group Vice, or the whacky irreverence of BuzzFeed.

The extent of Isis’s success in this is matched by al-Qaeda’s failure, Soufan argues. Like all terrorist groups and, for that matter, consumer brands, al-Qaeda needs to find young, impressionable recruits but is struggling badly. Many of the potential Kalashnikov wielders, in their late teens to early twenties, can barely remember 9/11 or even much of 7/7 – since when, increasingly effective intelligence and military assaults have stymied al-Qaeda’s attempts to pull off other “spectaculars” in the West, where it chooses to wage its struggle.

At the same time, it tries and, in the case of Isis, fails, to keep upstart splinter groups in line. In fact, Soufan argues: “Al-Qaeda is increasingly seen as the scolding grandfather of terrorist groups.” The ageing Nokia to the upstart Samsung, perhaps.

To hammer that point home, see how IS has been promoting the profiles of its teenage recruits, clearly encouraging them to publicise the outfit’s brand through their Facebook accounts and other social media.Using the marketing techniques of media monitoring, Soufan points out that on Twitter, a massively influential recruitment and publicity tool for Islamic extremist groups, IS is “crushing” al-Qaeda. Savvy use of hashtags and clever – if warped – videos makes Twitter the perfect tool for the IS product, while al-Qaeda remains relatively silent on the social network. And, while Isis mentions on Twitter rocketed after its early capture of Mosul in June, al-Qaeda mentions increased far less – and that despite the massively heightened global conversation about Islamic terrorism. In recent weeks, al-Qaeda is barely getting mentioned more than it did before the fall of Mosul.

In a way, however, winning big publicity for a new product – in IS’s case, a victorious military offensive – is not difficult. The troublesome part is retaining the profile. Whether IS can sustain that level of online branding success remains to be seen and depends largely on how its expansionism progresses in the coming months. This could prove difficult, given that the spectacular easy wins against Iraq’s troops may have mostly been had already. Even Apple has struggled to keep its brand pizazz since the paucity of groundbreaking new products following the death of its founder, Steve Jobs. Another al-Qaeda parallel, perhaps?

As for al-Qaeda itself, intelligence groups like Soufan claim the once fearsome terror network faces its biggest threat since the US invasion of Afghanistan. Like Yahoo!, SonyTV or Peugeot/Citroen, it is proving unable to combat the combination of a rising upstart in IS and the arrival of a new generation of consumers less familiar with its previous (in al-Qaeda’s case, awful) successes.

Its leaders must be aware of this danger to its very existence.

Like all those other marques, it desperately needs to come up with something new and devastating to get its brand back in the ascendant and differentiate itself from its young rival.

Soufan concludes that this could well be a near-term attack on a Western target to show it remains focused on the “real enemy” rather fighting fellow Muslims.

That’s a thought to chill us all.

Zambian bank leaves a long trail on the road to AIM

 I wrote here a year or so ago about an effort by the Zambian businessman Rajan Mahtani to float shares in his Finance Bank Zambia on AIM, London’s junior market.

The piece was suggesting regulators have a decent poke around this new would-be arrival to British shores.

You see, Finance Bank Zambia was awarded to Mr Mahtani on the orders of his close ally, President Sata, after it was stripped from its previous operator, South Africa’s FirstRand Bank.

Mr Mahtani’s camp argue that it was wrongly expropriated from him and fellow investors in the first place by the previous president. FirstRand should never have been given the bank, they say.

Inevitably, the whole process has put more noses out of joint than the late, great light-heavyweight Zambian champ Lottie Mwale. Some investors say they have been left out of pocket and are less than impressed by Mr Mahtani’s recent pronouncements that he will have his bank floated in London by the end of the year.

One such Zambian dickie-bird has now dropped off on my desk documents appearing to show a US judge authorising American assistance in a Zambian criminal investigation into Mr Mahtani’s business dealings. The request for help was made by the previous Zambian government in early 2011 and eventually granted 18 months later, by which time the new Sata administration had arrived. I’m told the request was subsequently reversed and the case abandoned.

The existence of such documents should not be taken as meaning Mr Mahtani has done anything wrong, of course. Calls for comment to the bank’s Lusaka head office went unanswered, but I’m sure he would respond that any previous investigation was politically motivated. It’s true there was clearly no love lost between Mr Mahtani and the former president, Rupiah Banda.

I suppose all I’m saying is, on behalf of future investors in this bank, AIM beware. Particularly as Mr Mahtani’s 76-year-old champion, President Sata, has been in an Israel hospital recently amid speculation about his health. Who knows what would happen to Finance Bank if another government swept to power?

Stephanie first after her public appearance as a woman at Rad Fest 2014

Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol
art'Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' followed hoax reports artist had been arrested and unveiled
Oscar Pistorius is led out of court in Pretoria. Pistorius received a five-year prison sentence for culpable homicide by judge Thokozile Masipais for the killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp
voicesThokozile Masipa simply had no choice but to jail the athlete
Life and Style

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

Russell Brand at an anti-austerity march in June
peopleActor and comedian says 'there's no point doing it if you're not'
Arts and Entertainment
Sister Cristina Scuccia sings 'Like a Virgin' in Venice

Like Madonna, Sister Cristina Scuccia's video is also set in Venice

Arts and Entertainment
James Blunt's debut album Back to Bedlam shot him to fame in 2004

Singer says the track was 'force-fed down people's throats'

Life and Style
The Tinder app has around 10 million users worldwide

techThe original free dating app will remain the same, developers say


Endangered species spotted in a creek in the Qinling mountains

ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Bryan Cranston as Walter White, in the acclaimed series 'Breaking Bad'
peopleJust weeks after he created dress for Alamuddin-Clooney wedding
Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

Life and Style

Some experiencing postnatal depression don't realise there is a problem. What can be done?

Arts and Entertainment
Gotham is coming to UK shores this autumn
tvGotham, episode 2, review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Senior Pensions Administrator

£23000 - £26000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Corporate Actions Administrator / Operations Administrator

£25 - 30k: Guru Careers: A Corporate Actions Administrator / Operations Admini...

Customer Service Executive / Inbound Customer Service Agent

£18 - 23k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Customer Service Executiv...

ASP.NET Web Developer / .NET Developer

£60 - 65k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a ASP.NET Web Developer / ....

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album