BROOKE GLADSTONE: Faisal Shahzad had just returned from Pakistan, where reportedly he underwent terrorist training by the Taliban. That struggle continues in Afghanistan, where America is waging a war not just to wrest territory from the Taliban, but to win hearts and minds and fight the plague of suicide bombings and IEDs. To that end, the U.S. military has launched a new ad campaign in Afghanistan, in partnership with a local ad agency Lapis. Here’s the English version of one of the ads Lapis produced for the new campaign.
MALE ANNOUNCER: What will we make of this child? Will we teach him to take lives?
[SOUND OF EXPLOSION] Or to save them?
[MUSIC UP AND UNDER] If we want a new Afghanistan, we have to build one for this new Afghan, because he is new life for us all.
[BABY CRYING/MUSIC OUT]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Jahid Mohseni is the CEO of the Moby Group, the parent company of Lapis. Jahid, welcome to the show.
JAHID MOHSENI: Thank you very much.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Can you tell me about some of the past efforts by the U.S. military to get their message across to the people of Afghanistan?
JAHID MOHSENI: Firstly, it’s just a guess because their ads are never branded as U.S. military or U.S. effort. There’s a lot of ads that are going through for counterterrorism, and generally they're very proscriptive, they're very literal, and, and there’s violence and there’s bits of shooting in there, etc.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And do they work?
JAHID MOHSENI: They don't necessarily change people’s perceptions. And then, because of the amount of propaganda that’s been thrown at people in the country over the last 30 years, I think people are fairly cynical when it comes to those kinds of ads.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And so, rather than doing the literal approach they've turned to Lapis, to your company, to try something new. Your company employs symbols and icons to send a subtler message, right?
JAHID MOHSENI: On this campaign there were two core areas they were looking at. They were looking at the branding and positioning of the Afghan National Army and then secondly looking at governance and development. In terms of the Afghan National Army, it was basically trying to imbue a sense of pride within the military itself and also with the population, linking in with the warrior poets of old, protectors of the people, picking up a gun not because they wanted to but because they had to, in order to protect society.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: How are you attacking the issue of development?
JAHID MOHSENI: It was very, very simple, using, again, very iconic basic imagery, using babies. A baby is something that everyone identifies with because it’s calm, it’s soft, it’s not telling you to do anything. And oddly, enough, you know, even for us, like as proprietors of a media company, stopping me to think and think, okay well, you know, we're shaping the future of the generations to come.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: What’s the feedback been from the viewers? Has the message gotten through?
JAHID MOHSENI: The feedback has been fairly positive. We've done a number of focus groups, and people were quite happy with it. They were thinking about it, they – they saw that it was positive. So, so far it’s been good.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Where are your ads appearing?
JAHID MOHSENI: This current campaign, it’s looking at more the eastern part of the country. It’s on television, on the national television, on billboards, on radio.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Is anybody criticizing you for producing propaganda for the U.S. military?
JAHID MOHSENI: So far we haven't got any criticism but for me the most important thing is that we didn't see much of this as being specifically propaganda. You know, one of the reasons we were able to take it on is it wasn't a propaganda piece. It wasn't about taking sides. It wasn't about Afghans having to choose sides. It was driving people to think and take a step back. And you have to also understand in our country 99 percent of the people are, are just normal everyday human beings that want to get on with their lives, want to have security, want to have jobs.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Some have credited the Taliban with having a much more effective public relations machine than anything the U.S. military came up with. Do you agree with that?
JAHID MOHSENI: I think they've got a very different message to what the military’s trying to convey. And they want to send a message that the country’s kind of being invaded or, or being occupied. It’s just it’s a very simple message, that they're there, they have a presence, they have an impact, they have an influence. So, in that sense it’s much easier to tell people if you cooperate, you won’t be killed, etc.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: That message sounds pretty effective.
JAHID MOHSENI: Yeah, and, and it would be. But again it’s a very different message, and it’s hard to do messaging for development. You’re not going in there and promising people a new home. If you went in there doing an ad saying every Afghan’s getting a new house, it becomes much more simple.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Whenever we've talked about hearts and minds campaigns anywhere, it always seems to boil down to ads can only take you so far. And, in fact, ads will take you nowhere if the policies of government don't reflect what the ads are trying to convey. Do you find that the policy is consistent with your ads?
JAHID MOHSENI: If you’re talking to people and you’re telling them that we're bringing peace but at the same time there are people being killed, obviously, then that becomes a problem. So you have to be very careful in terms of how you do ad – how you do advertising and what you promise.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So in the current environment how much impact do you see your ads having?
JAHID MOHSENI: I think it plays some positives roles. Other - otherwise we wouldn't be involved. You can't have an ad campaign that changes a big country. This is a small part and a very large problem. Fundamentally, in Afghanistan, no foreign power is going to be able to make the changes. It will have to be the people. We need to decide where our future lies.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Jahid, thank you so much for speaking with us.
JAHID MOHSENI: Thank you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Jahid Mohseni is the CEO of the Moby Group, the parent company of Lapis.
[MUSIC/MUSIC UP AND UNDER]
by Michael Leonhart & the Asvamina 7