Marketing Saddam Hussein

by Matt Soriano | 11/26/02 6:00am

Mr. Hussein! I just found out that you had an email account. Like all other Americans who fulfill our patriotic duty to shape foreign policy in terms of John Wayne movies, I had just assumed that that leather holster you wear holds some sort of large-caliber handgun. You know, as sort of an insurance policy against the help selling out to the Mossad, CIA or MI-6. Instead, it holds a Blackberry Mobile Communicator, to judge from one of the press releases from Responding to a sympathetic email from Christopher Love, your American sleeper agent -- I mean, "brother in the family of mankind" -- you electronically clucked your tongue at President Bush's "logic of war" in response to the Sept. 11 attacks. Obviously, there's logic and legitimacy behind your war against Iran in 1980, your gassing of the Kurds and your war against Kuwait in 1990.

This makes sense. When bombs start falling off B-2s and Special Forces troopers backed by Abrams tanks give the Republican Guard a little of the old 1991 deja vu, your staff tends to get a little rattled. Radio messages get garbled and people start to panic. But since you've got a Blackberry, you can stay in touch. Who better to trust than your own two pudgy thumbs? Let's face it: Dictators fighting 21st century adversaries have got to enter the 21st century in order to survive.

The problem, Mr. Hussein, is that in the 21st century, consumers depend on perceptions. Marketing is everything. Take the tie-ins attached to the new James Bond movie "Die Another Day." Men aren't going to buy Norelco razors because their skin requires nine separate "comfort settings." Heck, if you suggested the latter to someone in Norelco's target demographic you'd better get ready for one hell of a fistfight. They're buying into the sleek, sophisticated, and ultimately seductive world of James Bond. Mr. Hussein, I'm sorry to tell you that at the present time your image is not sleek or sophisticated. Keep your shirt on -- I didn't say you were seductive either. And I can understand that totally. Marketing isn't your core competency. With all the killing of dissidents, hiding of biological weapons and deepening of bunkers you've got to do, who's got time to look at the press releases?

Unfortunately, millions of people the world over do. And they're not doing you much good in the court of world opinion. Want to know why? People have got to be able to read them before they understand your message! Take your letter conceding to the U.N Security Council on Nov. 13. You had single sentences 154 words long and with 12 commas! Who can read that? The whole letter lasted for nine pages of blasting Israel, the U.S. and Britain before getting around to saying "yes." For this fiasco I can't blame you. I blame your translators, writers and typists. Somebody somewhere in the Foreign Ministry is paying these people by the word instead of by the product. They're exploiting the situation to a fare-thee-well. Once these guys are fired (or shot or tortured to death or fed to the tigers in your personal zoo), subcontract out all your marketing and public affairs to a Madison Avenue firm. You'll stay on message in under 300 words of tight, gripping and ultimately persuasive prose.

Persuasive prose does not include such cryptic phrases as "it would be better to take the kicks of a raging bull in a small circle than to face its horns in an open space" that were included in your Nov. 13 letter. I'm averse to getting kicked by any sort of bovine, regardless of the space where I got kicked. I've seen "City Slickers" and I'm no cowboy. And if I had a choice, I'd rather be in the open space so I could run away. On the other hand, if I were in a small circle the bull wouldn't have room to maneuver. The gist of it is that for the majority of your audience, the closest they come to bulls is a Merrill Lynch commercial. Try some other metaphor.

Getting away from bad usage, let's get to content. You spent a lot of time in that letter blasting the "gang of evil" for a variety of "bad," "malicious," "wicked," "aggressive" and "unjust" offenses. While your choice of words is broad, you never quite get around to explaining what the "gang of evil" stand to gain from their malevolence. That's critical. You've got to empathize, man! The slackjaws who read your press also watch "Oprah" and "Judge Judy." These people expect there to be two sides to a situation. If the world were a taping session of "Jerry Springer," you would be the one getting booed by the audience and throwing chairs in your strident rage. Instead, try to address their concerns. Act like Jerry Springer and make George Bush and Tony Blair look like unreasonable white trash. Remember: you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. And when you've finally caught them, you can crush them like the bugs they are. Don't you like to crush your opponents?

Crushing your opponents, after all, is the object of international intercourse. Unfortunately, your last chance to do that to the Americans was lost when you failed to take Saudi Arabia in 1990. But you've still got a chance to win the "mother of all battles." Just remember that this battle as it stands now is waged in pressrooms and over the media networks. You can't win if it comes to the Euphrates valley or the streets of Baghdad.