"Lucky the kidnapping happened in the technological era"

Gilad Shalit's years in captivity were accompanied by an unceasing campaign in Israel for his release. "Globes" spoke to some marketing experts for their assessments of its methods and its effect.

In the marketing and advertising world, the success of a campaign is usually measured by criteria set in advance. A professional campaign will always have a strategy and tactics, a specific target population, obstacles to be overcome, and often a competitor that must be beaten. On Tuesday, when Gilad Shalit arrives in Israel and is reunited with his family, one of the longest and most emotional campaigns that the Israeli public has ever experienced will come to an end. Just before the awaited day, "Globes" asked some senior advertising executives to analyze the campaign's progress, to explain what was behind it, and, no less importantly, to try to calculate if in the end it raised the price that was paid for Shalit.

The campaign actually began with the attempt to bring back three soldiers: Ehud Goldwasser, Eldad Regev and Gilad Shalit. That campaign was very similar to the later one for Gilad Shalit alone: a silhouette of three kidnapped soldiers in blue and white. Karnit Goldwasser was the face of the campaign. After Goldwasser and Regev's bodies were returned to Israel, Gilad remained on the silhouette by himself, and the Shalit family had to move to center stage. Throughout the campaign, the Shalmor Avnon Amichai agency was responsible for all advertising matters. Shlomi Avnon, a partner in the firm, describes the goals it set at the outset: "The first goal was to generate empathy for Gilad and his family. We did not know when the government needed to make a decision, but we wanted the Shalit family to enjoy wide public support when a decision came. It was clear that Gilad's return would be at a high price to Israel, and in order to make sure that Gilad would be returned, it was critical that there should be public support to put pressure on the government. The second goal was to keep Gilad in the public consciousness so that he would not be forgotten. Since budgets are limited, this was accomplished in waves. We attacked on all fronts: emotionally, by comparing Gilad with Ron Arad, and on a security level, by bringing in security personalities who supported his release. We made a decision that our target audience was the public, and not decision makers, because we knew that with decision makers all could be lost, as happened with Ron Arad."

They hugged the opposition

In the advertising industry, there is unanimity that the campaign was a phenomenal success - almost against the odds. "They ran a very correct campaign," said Gil Samsonov of the Glickman, Netler, Samsonov agency. "The goal was to engage the public on an emotional level over a five-year span - an almost impossible task. They made very strong and emotional moves, such as comparing Gilad to Ron Arad, the march to Jerusalem, and sleeping in the protest tent. These were the steps that kept the campaign alive.

"The problem with media actions is not to cross the line," says Samsonov, "not to attack decision makers in an extreme manner, to keep the campaign apolitical, and not to criticize people with conflicting opinions. Their treatment of those who oppose them was good - they "hugged" the opposition throughout the campaign. It is easy for a frustrated father to attack the prime minister, and they almost reached this point, but they did not cross it. They chose not to go forward with an "at any price" campaign. The first target audience was the media, which was mobilized and everyone did their jobs while minimizing the opposition. Getting the media on board was easy - it is the most basic reflex to come together at times like this, since it touches Israeli society's most sensitive nerve."

Samsonov believes that even in the days following the decision, the campaign continues: "Noam Shalit seemed very disciplined when he hung an Israeli flag from his house, or when he mowed the lawn the day before. These acts fed a hungry media. This way, there are fewer stories about bereaved families, and criticism about the price we have to pay is pushed to one side."

"Any time actions are taken to change perceptions and behavior, and to influence decision-makers, it is a marketing campaign," says Adler Chomski co-CEO Uri Eini. "This is a successful and effective campaign that in the end brought about a change among decision-makers. The campaign was carried out professionally, but also with understanding and intuition, without any professional fingerprints. The campaign does not have the odour of the professionals. All the people involved recognized a few macro trends: we are a divided and torn society searching for a consensus; the change in the perception of Israeli soldiers, which has gone from the "our heroic brothers" of the past, to the "our children" of today; and the advent of social networks in our lives and the changes that this has brought with it. The advertisers identified these trends and used them intelligently. Their actions were intended to turn Gilad into "everyone's son," and the son of "everyone" must be freed. They mainly used one specific picture that everyone can identify with - the silhouette in blue and white. They remained positive and went with a campaign of hope: "Gilad is still alive," and not the black and red campaign of, "What will happen if we don't…" The family behaved nobly. They showed a combination of hope and determination. This is a classic Israeli family that is easy to identify with - the name of the settlement they live in, even the kidnapped soldier's name, made things easy. With the face of a boy, not a hero, they kidnapped him - all of this made it easy to identify with him."

The protest's achievement

"This was a battle between two brands," says advertising exec Sefi Shaked. "One was 'Bring Gilad back', and the other 'Woe if we free murderers'. The challenge for the Gilad brand was to maintain awareness of it, to keep going forward and to surprise when crazy things were happening all the time. They did much better work than the rival brand, which is a strong brand, but it didn't do much. They gave it the knockout. In Israel, they did the best possible job; less good in the international arena, in my view. There were several international events they could have used, such as when the miners were rescued in Chile, they could have bought television spots and said something like 'They were rescued after two months, but Gilad has been imprisoned for X time.'

"However, the Israeli campaign was the really important one, and, as with any campaign, they needed a little luck. To my mind, the release of Shalit is actually the greatest achievement of the consumer revolution; Dafni Leef and Itzik Shmuli forced Netanyahu to pull out this card."

Yair Geller, of the Geller Nessis agency, believes that, although the campaign was professional, what made it successful was the media. "The media exploited the fact that we are in an age in which we have lost our way on social issues, with no cultural icons, and no-one to believe in, and they clung to the Gilad campaign. He's lucky that the abduction happened at a time when the media are the strongest power. The media found convenient partners on the Shalit side, a pleasant and accommodating Ashkenazi family, and then along came the grandfather, later the brother, and after him the girlfriend. The media left the government no option not to act."

Yossi Lubaton, CEO of Bauman Ber Rivnay, has no doubt that the campaign contributed to the final result. "Clearly, most of the policy makers, and first and foremost the prime minister, think the deal is a bad deal. None of them has any doubt that freeing a thousand terrorists harms the security of the citizens of Israel and prepares the ground for the next kidnapping. Without the campaign that kept Gilad in the public consciousness, and which, every time it seemed we had moved on to the next subject, knew how to put Gilad back on the agenda, the deal would probably not have happened. But through a popular campaign, skillfully directed at most stages, the public imposed the decision it wanted on the government.

" The decision makers did not have the strength to withstand a mass movement that wanted only one thing: the return of Gilad back home. Even attempts in official quarters to explain the price of the deal rationally, to explain that the public pressure enabled the other side to raise the price, were of no avail. At the end of the day, in the new world in which it is easier for the masses to organize and make their views known, we can expect to see decision makers capitulating to the voice of the electorate more and more."

Lubaton makes the connection between the media campaign and the price eventually paid, and it turns out that he is not the only marketing person to do so. "Before we get to speculation about the price," says Udi Pridan, joint CEO of the Reuveni-Pridan agency, "a son must be restored to his parents. To his home. But to my mind, the campaigns had a price, and an unnecessary price. I would guess that this time round, Hezbollah and Hamas are wondering what they don't know about Gilad, about how important he is to Israel. Was his father a senior Mossad agent? Is his uncle an Israeli war hero? Perhaps his mother was a spy in Syria? He can't be an ordinary soldier! I make a distinction between the pressure brought to bear by the family, which had the task of not letting the government forget, and the broader media campaign on television and the Internet.

"The campaign had a price. It raised the price Israel would be required to pay. A campaign for a commercial brand has one main job, and that is to raise the brand's value, value that translates into a higher price and consumer preference. Every time a campaign was mounted for Shalit, I bit my lip. But the height of Israeli stupidity came, I felt, when an Internet campaign by an Israeli agency won a Cannes Lion. Gilad rots in captivity, and the campaign wins an award. I honestly thought that, if anything, the award should have gone to the kidnappers. They created a supremely sensitive situation in the collective consciousness, and quietly looked on as the Israelis lifted the value of the asset they held, day by day, hour by hour. If the campaign was meant to expedite his return, there is room to wonder whether it didn't bring about the opposite result. If you are holding gold and its value keeps on rising, why dispose of it?"

Geller too thinks that the campaign raised the price of the deal. "I have no doubt that we paid more, but there is positive value to that. The very fact that a Hamas gang kept him healthy is due to the campaign and the media maintaining awareness of him. He became a huge icon, so they raised the price for him, but not just in the number of prisoners released. His high price prevented the IDF from making mistakes in Operation Cast Lead. That he was not hurt in a rescue operation is due, among other things, to the high value that the media placed on him."

Samsonov is not happy about saying anything definite about the price, but consents to say that the campaign "means that we didn't manage to get a better deal." Samsonov, who has a political background, relates that members of Knesset and ministers have been trying to promote a law forbidding negotiations over soldiers and the release of captives without an 80% majority in the Knesset. "Campaigns like these," he says by way of summing up, "touch an exposed nerve. The nation can't stand up to it, the media are even softer than the nation, and a future government must be helped to cope with this."

Avnon, who had an active role in the campaign, prefers not to go into the question of the price. "It's impossible to know what really affected the price," he says, "but the Shalit family is certainly one client that I am happy to part company with."

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on October 17, 2011

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2011

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