Isis and the propaganda war: How the social-savvy extremists are dominating the headlines

By Mark Borkowski |

June 25, 2014 | 3 min read

They exist on the edge of our world in a very different one. They know how to inhabit our imaginations and are the antithesis of our 21st century west and instant celebrity, excess, mass information, Justin Bieber and a rapidly moving culture.

An example of Isis's online propaganda

Out of the desert and the mountains rode the whirlwind of Isis, the fury of leaders and a scandalous belief and brass nerve. They’ve made a culture of hard-faced absolutism and brought to us an evil, dark movement.

But I also reluctantly concede, business in the west has a lot to learn in the propaganda war and unlikely as it may seem, Isis, the new kids on the jihadist block, understand how to use social media in a (excuse the pun) fundamental way to cause attraction, disrupting the well oiled US propaganda machine and placing them firmly on their back foot along the way. The growing power and influence of the group out shines the more sophisticated western PR savvy every time.

It's clear that the answers to how they manage it center around discipline, focus, long-term thinking, and a willingness to flout the rules that seem to govern everybody else. We should not underestimate either, the value of blinkered passion for their cause.

From the very beginning Isis understood the culture they wanted to undermine and the vital need to create emotion – and they are brilliant at it. What enables this, is a single chain of command, whilst corporate driven events and communications are often subject to committees and legal spin. But most of all they tune out the haters, noise, complexity and weight of media opinion and set their agenda from the very top.

Isis is a brilliant example of a deviant brand, keeping the headlines big and their aura powerful and persuasive.

In pure creative marketing terms though, perhaps most important, is their devotion to symbology and visualisation and for all those brands that are highly committed to the value of data, market research, and focus groups, take a hard look at Isis. They use their hater’s thoughts as inspiration, not direction wrangling emotion to the ground and their best effect..

Put simply, Isis wins in several ways:

  1. They have a clearly understood single vision and common purpose.
  2. They use emotion to drive engagement.
  3. They understand disruption.
  4. They deal with the haters using social media to their advantage far beyond any brand.
  5. They use social channels for recruitment and to drive their cause.
  6. They understand ‘experience’.
  7. They use visual medium to grab attention.
  8. They craft their self expression carefully.

We might not like it at all. But we have to admit they sure are good at it.


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