Repositioning Goliath

In the weeks following Hamas' Oct. 7 massacre of Israeli civilians, Robin Lemberg was busy trying to process the attack, how Israel was responding to it, and how people were responding to that. Specifically, she was trying to understand the outpouring of anti-Israeli vs. pro-Palestinian sentiment manifesting in news coverage, social media, and even on American college campuses.

Lemberg, a long-time branding expert who has helped shaped the sentiment of some of the world's largest brands, is also an American Jew and her daughter attends what would be considered a progressive U.S. university, where student protest groups were not just demonstrating in support of Palestine, but against Israel -- and in the most extreme cases, against other students simply for being Jewish.

Lemberg was beginning to form a thesis about how Israel was losing the "good guy" narrative and becoming the villain when she came upon a document that startled her in its sophistication.



The document, titled "Day Of Resistance Toolkit," was being crowdsourced to grassroots groups organizing protests in support of Palestine, and against Israel, including those on college campuses, and to Lemberg's expert eye, it was a complete marketing plan that she describes as being akin to a major new product launch.

"It looked like a new pharmaceutical brand launch," she recalls, noting: "They were marketing the disease state."

Lemberg is a veteran of big brands like PepsiCo, brand strategy firm Interbrand, and agencies including BBDO and TBWA. She immediately shared it with another brand marketing expert -- long-time friend Jon Bond, also a collaborator.

Bond concurred, and also discovered that the document wasn't just a static tome, but was being updated in real-time based on rapidly changing events in Gaza, and reactions to it worldwide, on social media, and American campuses.

Recognizing that the target audience was GenZ, Lemberg and Bond began conducting a series of research studies of the general U.S. population, as well as GenZ in particular, and began refining their thesis of the campaign's effect, and how to combat it.

"Oct. 7 was their Super Bowl launch," says Bond, adding that while the Hamas attack generated immediate massive awareness, the campaign is part of a longer narrative he describes as a "movement."

The movement's roots, he says, go back decades -- and its backers are akin to the kind of "dark money" that underwrites political and issues-oriented campaigns in the U.S., except that the sources were powerful, oil-rich Arab states focused on undermining Israel.

"If brand marketers want to understand how to start a movement, they should study this one," Bond says, comparing the pro-Palestine campaign as a feelings-based marketing effort more akin to "Harley Davidson than Coca-Cola."

In response to the Oct. 7 attacks, as well as mounting anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic sentiment, Bond says a number of Jewish groups have mounted big-budget ad campaigns appealing to the public based on facts and logic -- but they have largely been losing the war to the kind of emotional and feelings-based grassroots efforts of the pro-Palestine movement.

It hasn't helped that Israel's strong military response and the casualties and humanitarian crisis the Palestinian civilian population is enduring have not exactly helped the pro-Israel narrative.

This is why Lemberg and Bond have taken a different route of utilizing primarily feelings-based research and analysis to understand what has driven support for Palestine and criticism of Israel among America's GenZ population, including those who are American Jews.

"We call it the unique feeling proposition," says Bond, utilizing an obvious play of legendary adman Rosser Reeves' "unique selling proposition" that has guided brand marketers for more than a century.

"In this case, the unique feeling proposition is 'Free Palestine,' That's the Big Idea. It's about freedom for the oppressed. And that's very hard to counter," explains Bond, noting, "We don't have one of those for the other side."

Not yet, at least. But Bond and Lemberg have at least identified how to get it.

"We need to flip the script," says Bond, noting that the pro-Palestinian movement has repositioned Israel from a "David" to "Goliath."

The solution, he says, is recasting Israel as a David against an even bigger Goliath: "the bigger Islamic insurgency backed by evil oil money."

Easier said than done, and while Bond and Lemberg have begun working with various Jewish groups on how to begin recasting those archetypes, it likely will be a long campaign process.

In the meantime, something positive has come from Bond's and Lemberg's collaboration, and new feelings-based research brand consultancy called The Heart Monitors.

"We’re going to expand it to address brands and non-profits both," says Bond.

"It’s not our intention to just help the Jewish world, says Lemberg, adding, “We’re focusing on GenZ, because that’s the problem audience.”

1 comment about "Repositioning Goliath".
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  1. john rohm from connect ventures llc, March 16, 2024 at 1:57 p.m.

    profound in both it's revelations and situational perspective, I applaud the acceptance of the challenge! Definitely worth following the progression.

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