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The War at Home: Marketing Opportunities in an Era of Terrorism

by Glen Emerson Morris
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The recent terrorist attacks in New York and Washington D.C. mark the beginning of a new era for marketing and advertising. The closest comparable event in American history is Pearl Harbor, but there are some critical differences. Unlike Pearl Harbor, American business was the primary target this time, not American military facilities.

The choice of targets says a lot about the kind of war America is now involved in. This is a new kind of war, and the demands on American business will be significantly different than in World War II. Then, the nation's entire business community focused on one objective, winning the war by mass-producing the weapons of war. This time the volume of weapons produced won't be a determining factor in the war's outcome. Victory may ultimately just be maintaining the American lifestyle.

Unfortunately, maintaining life and business as usual despite terrorist attacks won't be easy. The United States has an infrastructure that is particularly vulnerable to terrorism for two reasons; it is highly centralized, and it is largely unprotected.

Ever since the industrial revolution began, there's been a trend towards centralization of factories and utilities. The economies of scale dictated that it was more profitable to build one big steel plant than several smaller ones. Later, centralization was encouraged for other reasons.

During the Cold War, the United States and Russia maintained peace essentially by holding each other's citizens hostage under the threat of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). Neither side would attack the other because doing so would trigger a deadly counter strike, capable of largely ending life as we know it. Any attempt by either side to bomb-proof or decentralize its homeland infrastructure would have been interpreted as a sign it was preparing to launch a first strike, and the other side would have had no choice but to launch a pre-emptive attack. (This is the reason why the Internal Revenue Service never allowed homeowners to deduct the expense of building a fallout shelter. Doing so would have increased the likelihood of the very war that the fallout shelters were designed to protect people against.)

Unfortunately, the centralization mandated by the MAD policy is exactly the worse kind of infrastructure to have in an era of terrorism. To survive now, Americans need to decentralize the infrastructures that produce the goods and services they depend on, especially in the area of public utilities.

For instance, most city water plants have little security, and present very tempting targets for attack with bio-chemical weapons. At the same time, few American homes have any significant stockpile of drinking water. In the current climate, it would make sense for each American residence to have a long-term backup water supply (30 days or more), and if they could afford it, the ability to detect and filter out bio-chemical agents from whatever water they were supplied with.

A basic system would simply be able to detect bio-chemical agents in the public water supply and automatically switch to the reserve tank before any contaminated water entered the building's plumbing. A more advanced system would be able to filter out contaminants to provide an uninterrupted water supply. In terms of boosting the economy, every ten million homes that bought a $100 basic system would add one billion to the GDP.

Given the threat of airborne bio-chemical weapons, it would be nice to be able to seal off private and public buildings from the outside air completely, and only allow "safe" air into the buildings. This wouldn't be much of a problem for many high-rise office buildings, but it might take a redesign of the American home to make it work there. This is another new market that could add billions to the GDP, and provide the additional economic benefit of protecting workers from natural airborne irritants like pollen and mold.

Attacks on the power grid are another strong possibility, so back-up power supplies for the home and office will be increasingly common. A back-up power supply industry could add billions to the economy. It could also significantly lower the cost of electricity by allowing homes and businesses to charge their batteries when electricity was the cheapest to produce, and run off them during periods of peak use. Common use of long term back-up power supplies would also make local economies less vulnerable to natural disasters like hurricanes, and especially blizzards, where loss of power can be life threatening.

Other vulnerable areas include communications systems, mass transit, and of course agricultural production, just to name a few. For decades we've become increasingly dependent on a very complex system to support our average daily life. We've taken it for granted, grown complacent, and our enemies have noticed.

The efforts to make American life terrorist-resistant, if not terrorist-proof, are just beginning. It will cost billions, but it will make America a far stronger nation. These efforts will also make America far less susceptible to natural disasters.

For America to survive in the years ahead, American businesses will have to provide the American public with the products and services needed to continue normal life despite terrorist attacks. The Internet will be an ideal medium to inform the public of new technologies that will make their life safer, and sustainable, and we'll need them.

We are moving into an era with many aspects of the Cold War, but none of the relative security. This time the destruction isn't just on television, it's outside our windows. Winning this war won't be like winning wars in the past, but we do have the resources to win, if we can protect them, and use them properly.

If American business is up to the task, this war can be made to fuel the economy, rather than allowed to destroy it. We are at war with someone who is targeting the source of our prosperity, and to win we must produce prosperity in the same overwhelming quantity that we produced weapons in during WWII. Exporting some of our surplus prosperity to the third world might go a long way to ending the support of extremists there. It would also reduce the envy behind much of our present danger, making the world a much safer place. Theft may be the sincerest form of envy, but wanton destruction is the most dangerous.

Copyright 1994 - 2010 by Glen Emerson Morris All Rights Reserved

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