News & Politics

Leaked Memo Reveals WTO Plan to "Sell" Itself to American Youth

Ever since the disastrous "Battle of Seattle" in 1999, the World Trade Organization has been trying to remake its image. "Positive Anarchy" might be just the solution.
Geneva -- Ever since the disastrous "Battle of Seattle" in 1999, the World Trade Organization has been trying to remake its image, trading in the persona of global tyrant for that of a "hip," "with it" agent of change. The group's efforts took a bizarre turn today with the unauthorized release of a memo outlining a sophisticated WTO public relations campaign intended to win the support of American youth.

The memo, leaked to the Swiss newspaper, Le Matin, was prepared by the American marketing firm Y Not, Inc., which specializes in advertising campaigns aimed at 12 to 19-year-olds. Entitled "Positive Anarchy," the document lays out a detailed plan for selling the WTO brand to American youth through merchandising, product placement and so-called guerilla marketing.

News of the plan has some of the WTO's more straight-laced supporters shaking their heads. "I don't think that this so-called spin is the answer to our problems," said Hans Dieter Sprecht, director of International Trade for the Deutsche Bundesbank. "The WTO should be focusing more on security issues, including security at its own meetings."

Critics of the WTO immediately condemned the organization. "We think it's despicable that the World Trade Organization would aim its propaganda campaign at children," said Fiona Lippman-Suarez, a spokesperson for the London-based activist group Global Justice Watch. "Then again, what can you expect from an organization that thinks it's fine for 4-year-olds to make footballs and carpets?"

The embarrassing revelation comes at a particularly awkward time for the WTO, which is preparing to launch its fourth ministerial conference in Doha, Qatar in November. Just last month, the organization released a pamphlet entitled "10 Common Misunderstandings About the WTO," responding to criticism by anti-globalization protesters.

The WTO denied any knowledge of the public relations memo, "Positive Anarchy," the full text of which appears below.

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Campaign Plan for "Positive Anarchy"

Privileged and Confidential
Subject to Attorney-Client Privilege
Attorney Work Product

MEMORANDUM

July 2, 2001

To: WTO Youth Action Working Group

From: Y NOT, Inc.

Re: Strategic Youth Campaign


--------------------------------------

First the problem: the World Trade Organization faces significant obstacles in its efforts to bring its message to the 12 to 19-year-old demographic. Non-interest, lack of information and misinformation all remain significant problems. Furthermore, polling data continues to skew substantially towards the competitor "brand," called here "Anti."

Now the solution: using detailed polling information provided by Teen Data, Inc., we think we can begin to create a meaningful WTO "brand" experience for the teen demographic. The key to our efforts will be to reach the so-called "unaffiliateds," that part of the demographic that has no information about the WTO "brand" and as a result, has yet to form any kind of negative opinions. By targeting this sub-demographic through grassroots messaging, guerilla marketing and subversive affirmation, we believe we can realize significant market share for the WTO "brand."

1. Subversive Affirmation: the On-Air Strategy
Our polling data from Teen Data, Inc. indicates that 72% of the 12 to 19 year-old demographic receives news-type information from late night television and comedy shows. Obtaining positive "brand" coverage through these media is our best bet for reaching the audience. * Note: polling data shows that while there is significant awareness of "Anti" (63% of teen boys, 74% of teen girls), the demographic is already experiencing pronounced fatigue with the "Anti" "brand." 49% of the mixed demographic said they were "ready for something new."

We recommend the following media strategies:

- Team up with professional comedy writers to produce comic material relating to the "Anti" competitor "brand." Discussions are underway with the Daily Show, Conan O'Brien and Saturday Night Live.

- Create a visible presence around the WTO "brand." Focus groups responded positively to Mike Moore as spokesman, with 39% indicating an "above average willingness to listen" when Moore was on camera. Discussions about placing Moore on late night shows are ongoing -- no concrete results yet -- although Charlie Rose has reportedly expressed some interest.

- Take advantage of daytime openings. 37% of the demographic indicated that they regularly record daytime shows for later viewing. Of this sub-demo, 72% watch the Jerry Springer show. We are currently negotiating with Springer's producers over a proposed "brand" showdown in which a young female representing the WTO "brand" would face-off against a young male representing "Anti."

- Recruit model/spokespersons. Polling indicates that "Anti" has benefited significantly from association with high profile musicians/actors. (Note: 43% of teen girls identified U2 singer Bono as related to "Anti" "brand.") Through a third party, Y NOT, Inc. initially approached actresses Sarah Michelle Gellar and Tara Reid about serving as spokespersons for the WTO "brand," but made little headway. We have since been approached by a representative of Kevin Costner, but aren't convinced that he is "brand" appropriate.

2. Guerilla Marketing
Of teens reporting fatigue with the "Anti" "brand," 46% focused on "Anti" merchandise including puppets, bandannas and gas-masks. The relatively static nature of "Anti" "brand" merchandise creates the opportunity for the WTO "brand" to effectively compete for market share by introducing its own product line.

- Work with Teen Data's Trend-Setter division to identify coming trends in teen fashion and mark said merchandise with WTO "brand." Note: all garments must be made in USA or include "sweatshop free" label. We don't want to set ourselves up for that one!

- Explore product placement possibilities. The expanded Reality TV niche presents exciting opportunities for product placement, including WTO "brand" merchandise. Note: discussions with Mark Burnett about placing WTO product in Survivor 3: Africa have been extremely positive, although still at the exploratory stage.

- Utilize one-to-one teen marketing. 83% of the demographic reported that they are "most likely to take information seriously if it comes from other teens, which means that the most effective marketers of the WTO "brand" are teens themselves. We are currently working on customizing the guerrilla marketing strategies of Big Fat, Inc. (bigfatpromo.com) for the WTO "brand." This highly effective method utilizes trend-setting teen marketers who sell product to their own demographic while keeping their own affiliations hidden.

3. Image Cultivation
Even teens who failed to identify the meaning of "WTO" (note: 81%) still associated the "brand" with negative imagery. When asked if they would be likely to purchase "WTO" product, 32% responded "extremely unlikely," while 27% responded "unlikely." Asked what would make the WTO "brand" more appealing, 39% of this group suggested either rearranging the brand logo or selecting a replacement logo. Based on this data, we recommend the following:

- Adopt embedded marketing strategy. Teen marketing research shows that teens may respond positively to marketing symbols used in association with formerly unpopular brands. Utilizing this strategy, the WTO "brand" would be replaced by a symbol or logo that teens consider more appealing. Note: in focus groups, 59% of teens reported that they would consider purchasing WTO product if associated with friendly talking frog.

- Consider reconfiguring product logo. Teens who responded negatively to both WTO "brand" and "World Trade Organization" responded less negatively when letters were said to stand for something else (World Time Out or We Think Off-Beat were both presented to focus groups.). Possibilities are obviously limited within the current logo-scope. Consider using other letters?

- Pursue "truth in marketing" strategy. 76% of teens surveyed said that they have "high respect" or "some respect" for "brands" that "do what they say they are going to do." Utilizing "truth" strategy also presents significant opportunity to erase some market share currently dominated by "Anti" "brand." 62% of teen focus group participants reported that they would "be interested in trying" a "brand" that 1) eliminated Third World debt or 2) provided free drugs to people suffering from AIDS or 3) got rid of sweatshops. Just a thought.

Ed's Note: A few reactions to this article we've gotten from our readers...

"I can't work out whether the 'leaked memo' story about the WTO trying to market itself to teenagers is supposed to be satirical or if it is a genuine story. Is this for real or is this someone having a laugh?"

"Leaked Memo Reveals WTO Plan to "Sell" Itself to American Youth" by Deanna Swift (if she exists) is a hoax. The persons and organizations mentioned are fabricated. The "memo" is a satire, though perhaps too subtle of one. Let me add that I am myself an anti-globalization protestor. I just don't think mixing misinformation with truth will help the movement."

"Is your story on the WTO memo for getting teens to like the WTO a hoax? Do you even know if it is a hoax? I can't find Y Not, Inc on the Internet anywhere."

In other words ... gotcha!

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