Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Art of PSYOP

Tailoring your message to make it easy to understand and emotionally appealing is a key to success. The use of Assud the Bunny follows another Palestinan Character, Farfour the Mouse as a dramatic and powerful way to reach children and arouse sympathy from adults. See: Assud also eats Jews see:,

Personification is a great way to crystallize a message in an emotional and powerful way. Subsequent to September 11 I felt that our global messaging should personify the Moslem victims and engage the world audience emotionally. This engagement could have been carried out at the strategic, operational and tactical PSYOP levels – but it didn’t happen.

As the USG becomes more heavily engaged in Afghanistan the nature of information engagement will of necessity morph into an aggregation of many rural target audiences (see my previous post on rural audiences) and a few urban ones.

Alternatively for the more sophisticated video or Internet audience, it is possible to employ different techniques of journalistic art to sway the reader/viewer. Recently I watched the documentary SOP by Errol Morris. The documentary covered Abu Ghraib through interviews with several enlisted soldiers and then BG Janis Karpinski. Interspersed with the interviews were digital photos taken by the soldiers and some ‘art’ that emphasized elements of the event under consideration.

The subtlety and starkness of the art reinforced the perception of horror of the incidents. Cleary the documentary was seeking to evoke emotions as well as just tell the story through the interviewees.

What does all this mean? It means that PSYOP faces global challenges in magnitudes that we have never experienced before. The exploding Middle East, the shifting of emphasis from Iraq to Afghanistan, the ongoing terrorist threat and the vagaries of a new Presidential administration add up to the Chinese curse: May you live in interesting times.

PSYOPers at all levels will need to increase not merely their global awareness, but their ability to absorb new cultures quickly and to create PSYOP products that reach the myriad of new audiences at all operational levels. Hopefully Secretary Designate Clinton will support the Public Diplomacy mission in tandem and partnership with DoD and that the Obama Administration will enlist talent from the commercial, academic and perhaps even the retired sector to shape the new information engagement environment.

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