Commentary

What The Ad Industry Can Learn From Nazis And Terrorists

Apparently white supremacists, like their counterparts over in the Islamic State, have figured out how to use the internet expertly to recruit and coordinate among a huge pool of potential racists.

Joan Donovan, a scholar of media manipulation and right-wing extremism at Data & Society, told the New York Times this week that that even though Islamic extremists and white nationalists have different views and motivations, there are broad similarities in how the two operate online -- including how they spread their message, recruit and organize offline actions.

What can brands can learn from the most persuasive "marketers" on earth: Nazis and jihadists?

It should be relatively easy to sell ideas that make your life better like sparkling bathtubs, fewer calories, or something that's guaranteed to last longer -- compared to "Help us making everyone else's life a living hell (caveat: might require your own demise)."

But you might argue that these two groups are appealing to a market already predisposed to their ideology. Well, show me even one ad-tech company that doesn't claim to be able to use data to "target those most likely to convert." In fact, it seems to be a cornerstone of the entire digital ad ecosystem.

Another cornerstone would be heavy use of personalization, especially with those at the top of the funnel. If you can believe the documentaries on how online radicalization works, pretty much as soon as you register on the site, a real person starts a dialogue -- and not one of those annoying AI-driven bots trying to masquerade as a guy sitting at a desk in Indiana, either.

The mission of that first contact is not to push a sale right away, but to establish a rapport with the client.

If you have ever been to a market in the Middle East (not that kind of market, but a real one like the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul) you can tell that they haven't learned much in three or four thousand years, since they still try to pull you in for an immediate sale without first building that all-important rapport. And frankly, "I love New York Yankees" is not the conversation-starter that launches the sale of even a smidge of yellow turmeric.

I get the same creepy feeling from vendors clogging the aisles of my local grocery store trying to foist a food sample on me when I am really only there to restock on Diet Coke and Pringles.

Now you may argue that you aren't staffed to have a one-on-one conversation with everyone who comes to your website, since you have 8 million customers and are marketing to about 25 million with some of that "mostly likely to convert" ad tech.

But I suspect the Nazi and terrorists have a pretty sophisticated system for separating the wheat from the chaff so that they only spend quality time with those who are moving fast down the funnel.

You might also argue that they are selling promises that they can never deliver on to a dimwitted bunch of teenagers. Which sounds to me like every movie promo I have ever seen.

And yes, appealing to prospects' underdeveloped or misshaped sense of self is an advantage -- but no different than when car salesmen laugh at every stupid joke I make while waiting for the "manager" to "consider" my offer. Or when some menswear hack tells me I can really "wear" this jacket or that even uglier one.

If these ideological morons can convince people to drive into a crowd of women and children because their god will reward them with 72 virgins or that being a member means another step toward sending "them" all back to Mexico, Asia or Africa, then surely you can convince your prospects that the full cable bundle (with free HBO for two months) is worth every penny.

1 comment about "What The Ad Industry Can Learn From Nazis And Terrorists".
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  1. mike donahue from connecting the dots, August 25, 2017 at 10:34 a.m.

    George,
    There is evidence that terrorists are funding their recruitment efforts from the billions of dollars generated by bot fraud.
    Until the industry insists that no money be sent to any site until it is verified that humans visit that site, the bot fraud money will not stop.
    Only 10 million of the 330 million websites 
    are visited by humans.
    Just'sayin.


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