'People are laughing at you': U.K. expert on Israel's PR effort
'Fascinating as it is that you developed the cherry tomato, do you really think it will change people's perceptions?'
Conventional marketing wisdom has it that even bad news is good news, as long as people talk about you. But Jonathan Gabay, a leading London-based marketing and branding expert, disagrees, at least when it comes to Israeli hasbara, or public diplomacy.
He is extremely critical of the new campaign recently launched by Israel's Information and Diaspora Ministry, which seeks to motivate Israelis traveling abroad to speak up on behalf of Israel. Dubbed Masbirim Israel, or Explaining Israel, the campaign advises citizens on how to discourse politely and provided a list of Israel's achievements to be highlighted in conversations.
"People are laughing at you," Gabay, 48, fumed as he was looking at some articles in British newspapers making fun of Masbirim. "Who is advising you on your brand? This is not good, this is pretty bad."
Media outlets all over the globe reported about Masbirim, many deriding the campaign. "Apparently your pamphlet says people should first listen and then talk, make eye contact, used relaxed body language - I mean, really?" said Gabay, who teaches at a major marketing school, regularly appears on British TV channels and has written 15 books about branding. "This is very serious. We live in a world of cynicism. This is producing the worst kind of [public] diplomacy," he stressed.
"What upsets me is that when I come here I actually think that Israel is the most democratic country in the whole of the Middle East," continued Gabay, who visited Israel this week to consult several hi-tech companies. "But this doesn't come across in your PR. Because you guys put out marketing campaigns which talk about Israel being a peace-loving state that developed the cherry tomato and won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1998. As fascinating as it is that you developed the cherry tomato, do you honestly think that's going to change people's perceptions?"
Information and Diaspora Minister Yuli Edelstein rejects Gabay's criticism. He contests the campaign is succeeding, having stirred public discussion and brought 150,000 Israelis to visit its Web site to date. The campaign not only features information about supermodel Bar Refaeli and other such lighter items but also about the country's successes in high tech and medical research. It also suggests answers to tough questions about Israel's policy's vis-a-vis the Palestinians, he added.
"The mission of four million Israelis traveling abroad every year is not to try to get in the United Nations and explain that in the 32nd paragraph of the Goldstone report there is a mistake," Edelstein told Anglo File. "The main task is to paint Israel with a human face, to talk about their personal lives, their hobbies and achievements and the achievements of the country that allowed them to be successful."
For Gabay, this is "too fluffy." Rather, such a campaign should work according to his basic branding model, for which he draws the interior of an egg. The values - the white - draw their strength from its core idea, the yolk. Masbirim, Gabay contests, focuses too much on Israel's values - such as tourism, culture and science. "What is Israel about? It's not just about Bar Refaeli, as beautiful as she is," he said. "Without the central bit, all this stuff is fluff and doesn't mean anything."
Gabay proposes Israel to be more straightforward about the one issue people connect with the brand Israel - the conflict with the Palestinians. Instead of merely reacting to accusations of oppression or war crimes, Jerusalem should actively and confidently - but not arrogantly - explain why it's acting the way it does, Gabay suggests. "Treat people intelligently and they will respond. Treat people as if you're selling soap powder and people won't believe you. That's the bottom line."