America turns to PR wizardry to sell its message across globe

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The Independent US

As the United States struggles to persuade the world that bombing Afghanistan is the best way to fight the war on terrorism, the Bush administration is turning to marketing wizardry to reach the parts that old-fashioned political propaganda apparently cannot reach.

The President took the lead yesterday when he sought to persuade East European leaders in a video conference call that the world is facing the same "mad global ambitions" that pushed the democratic world into two world wars. But there is more to come. With diplomatic misgivings about the war effort reaching crunch point, the US is planning a television advertising campaign aimed at hearts and minds in the Middle East. There is talk of drafting athletes, musicians and actors to remind the world that there is more to America than imperialism and Coca-Cola.

Many of the senior political and military figures involved in the war are also selling their message. General Richard Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Colin Powell, the Secretary of State, and Donald Rumsfeld, the Defence Secretary, have all appeared on Arabic-language television.

The woman masterminding the new-look propaganda effort is Charlotte Beers, the undersecretary of state for public diplomacy, who was drafted from Madison Avenue specifically to apply commercial sales techniques to promote the image of the US, despite having no diplomatic experience. The Senate held up her confirmation for six months, agreeing to rush it through only in the aftermath of 11 September. Now she has been elevated in effect to the position of propaganda minister.

"We are having people who are not our friends define America in negative terms. It is time for us to reignite the understanding of America," she said in her first interview, to Advertising Age magazine.

Her branding techniques have yet to take effect – in part, arguably, because the administration itself is uncertain how to assess the success of its war efforts.