Thursday, September 26, 2013

Has anyone seen Tom Cruise on the roof of the UN yet?

At times, when you want to promote something, if you use the wrong tone, wording, music or images you might end up with people thinking the exact opposite of what you were trying to communicate. Here is a classic example.

This was the opening week of the UNGA, the United Nations General Assembly. Held every year in September - and a recurring nightmare for resident New Yorkers - the opening of the UN General Assembly becomes the stage for world leaders:

- to see and be seen;

- to say what's on their minds at that time;

- to meet each other formally or informally, and by informally I mean 'we just bumped into each other in the corridor' - yeah, right; or

- to make a point of not meeting someone. Are you still following me?

As we saw this time, there is a lot of media attention. It is an important foreign policy event because everyone is in town but no major decisions - certainly not binding- are taken - it's the General Assembly after all, not the Security Council.  A frenetic week, where most of the participants go - more like run - from one event to another across town whether it is a UN event or not. At the end of these hectic days, everyone returns home and the world - maybe I should say, the media - forgets about the General Assembly until the following year. Before you think I am as usual too cynical; I think this is an amazing occasion, I guess quite a unique one, where "the world" gets together to discuss various issues, and it is one of the few places - if not the only -  where some leaders can speak, be heard and meet. And in the grand scheme of things the fact that the speeches and the discussions lead to very little is neither very surprising nor the point.

Still, it is widely acknowledged that while UNGA week is an important arena, it has never changed, and probably never will, the course of history. Feel free to disagree, by the way.

Now, have a look at this video - found on the homepage of the UN website:


Never mind the technical mistake of the two quotes (you first hear  Ban-Ki moon and then Ellen Johnson Sirleaf spelling out a list of issues, but while the latter is talking about problems to eradicate, the former is referring to principles and values to uphold. Not great editing). The style, the music (some sort of Mission Impossible soundtrack) the graphics (i.e. the script) give you the impression that this week is 'make or break' week, that the world, after this week, will be something else altogether - of course, thanks to some Tom Cruise look-alike that will come and save us all, climbing the building and entering from the roof, as doors are not cool.

The natural reaction after watching such a video is to start thinking about what this week is NOT and that the world will not change an iota after it. Ultimately, these thoughts will bring you to the realisation that actually, despite the great hopes and the emotional rhetoric of the UN symbol, this clunky and rusty organisation has not delivered what it had promised at its inception, mostly because its member states did not want it to. So, you see? The exact opposite of what the makers of the video wanted to communicate. Not ideal. Promote the UN by all means, but make sure that what you are saying - and the way you say it - reflect accurately what this week is really about.  

Interesting - Eurocentric - side note: it was pointed out to me that the video does not show a single EU representative - please correct me if I am wrong - A clear message trying to imply a perceived or real decrease of relevance of the old continent when it comes to the United Nations and more broadly to foreign policy. I fear this was the actual message that the video wanted to communicate, not its opposite. Food for thought.

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