In Memory – 9/11/01

Today marks the 6th anniversary of the tragic events of September 11th, 2001. I was living nearly 2,000 miles from the events on that day, but I grew up in New York and have many, many friends and family still living in the area. To paraphrase a bit, you can take the boy out of New York, but you can’t take New York out of the boy. I am and always will be a New Yorker and the events of that day six years ago hit closer to home than the physical distance between us.

In 2001 my brother worked across the street from the Twin Towers. His subway stop was directly below the Trade Center. He was heading into work a little late that day and arrived moments after the second plane stuck. I often wonder what might have been had he been there on time that day. The building he worked in was being used a morgue later in the morning. By the end of the day he was one of those walking out of the city covered in dust, an image I’m sure is familiar to most if not all of you.

I’m not the only one thinking about this war today. Seth Godin posted earlier linking to a report that was just released by the NYPD on terrorism. The NYPD removed the full document, but Seth is currently making it available for download (PDF).

I skimmed through the 90 page report a little while ago and it’s interesting. It does make a few ethnic generalizations as Seth points out, but it’s main focus is to look at 11 cases of terrorism since 9/11 and to analyze those behind the plots and the causes for their involvement. Whether you agree with the report or not it’s worth taking the time to at least skim through it’s main ideas.

Like Seth I don’t have the answers, but also like Seth I agree that marketing has its place as a combatant in the war on terror.

Seth briefly mentions how decades ago marketing helped to stop the spread of famous bank robbers. While focusing on catching all of them, the FBI also promoted the idea of Alcatraz as a deterrent making robbing banks less appealing. They spread an ideavirus to fight crime.

If you’ve read Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point or are familiar with its ideas you understand how small and seemingly insignificant changes can have a very big impact. In the past the New York Transit Authority stepping up efforts to remove graffiti from subway cars helped reduce the rate of violent crimes in New York.

The NYPD report points out that fundamental terrorism is an idea virus and it makes frequent mention of the internet’s place in spreading that virus. Yesterday Reuters reported that EU Justice and Security Commissioner Franco Fattini wants to prevent access to any site giving instructions on how to make a bomb. He wants to look into the feasibility of preventing ‘bomb’ related searches in addition to preventing direct access to sites. This isn’t the answer for many reasons.

The answer is in Seth’s post when he mentions that the best way to counter an idea virus is with another ideavirus. The answer to the problem of terrorism in the world is in part to market to those who might one day decide terrorism is something to pursue and convince them it’s a bad idea long before they get to the point of making that decision.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t try to uncover terrorist cells and do what we can to disrupt their future formation, but our best strategy towards prevention is through marketing. The NYPD report shows how there is no one profile for the person who may on day commit terrorist acts. The only thing common to all is they start out as ordinary and unremarkable people. Over the course of years they are moved closer and closer to violent action. Marketing can help prevent their migration to violence by offering better reasons not to become a terrorist than to become one.

I can still remember the day six years ago when I first heard the news of the planes crashing into the towers and later watching while the second of the towers collapsed to the ground. My first thoughts were to my brother who I somehow felt was ok, but until I heard from him later that afternoon I wouldn’t know for certain. I think about my mother who was on a cruise with limited access to information and how I spent the day watching every last second of coverage on tv, while gathering information and coordinating the spread of that information to family and friends across the country.

The problems we face as a global community need to be solved by far more than military struggles. While it may strike you as simplistic to think marketing has a place shaping a better future, the truth is there is no better way to shape that future and no better use for marketing and marketers. Malcolm Gladwell taught us that small changes can make a big difference and Seth Godin reminds us today of that potential and the necessity. One more time I’ll agree with Seth when he says

I’m hopeful that by looking forward, we can market our way to better place. Thousands of brave people have sacrificed for our safety and peace of mind. I’m grateful to them. The next step is to get smart about strategy and marketing.

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