A public diplomacy program worth examining is the Shared Values Campaign created by the U.S. State Department. The campaign aimed to combat anti-American sentiment in the Middle East by showing Muslim Americans describing their positive experiences living in the United States. The hope was that these images would show people in the Arab world that America doesn’t hate Muslims. The campaign, which cost $15 million and was designed by a Madison Avenue marketing executive, used a combination of television advertising, speaking tours, print publications, radio broadcasts, and outreach programs.
There are several downsides to this campaign, which is generally regarded as a failure. The first relates to media effects and how these kind of campaigns impact the way audiences perceive reality. When the message was mediated by audiences in the Middle East, it didn’t come off as it was intended. Instead of identifying with the concept of “shared values,” people thought it was disingenuous (particularly in the wake of the US invasion of Iraq).
Another is the content of the campaign, or rather the lack of it. The campaign completely ignored issues that were relevant to resentment of the US in the region – namely the history of US intervention in the region. Nobody was upset about or even wondering about how American Muslims were living. The response was generally “who cares? What about the Arab-Israeli conflict?” The creators didn’t have a firm grasp of the audience they were tailoring it to. The campaign answered questions nobody was asking. Perhaps the campaign would have landed if it had addressed issues relevant to the public’s opinion of the US.