Accidental guerrillas

I came across an idea this summer that's been rattling around my head... the accidental guerrilla.

The idea came from a book by the same name, written by a former Australian army officer David Kilcullen.  The gist of the book is that most of the insurgents or terrorists we fight are "accidental guerrillas." There are a core of true believers out there who infect these accidental guerrillas with their ideology. These accidental guerrillas join the cause not because of they're radicals themselves, but because of circumstance -- often Western intervention. (That's a really abridged summary, if you're intrigued, I'd really recommend picking up the book.)

If that's the case, then the strategy to fight insurgencies and terrorism is in part separating out these accidental guerrillas from the true believers, thereby isolating the true believers from their base of support.

While Kilcullen was just talking about insurgencies in his book, I think the idea of the accidental guerrilla is quite powerful and all around us.

From politics, to technology, to entertainment. We see the accidental guerrillas driving movements. Its why we focus on undecided voters in politics. Its what all consumer brands (especially tech brands) are hoping will buy their products -- moving from the hard core band of early adopters to the majority of the public.  And, its how the army finally found success in the Iraq war. 

 "Beliefs are a member's card to a group of believers." (Schultz, Being Wrong)

 Accidental Guerrillas make a decision about which community they want to be a part of of, who they belong with.  Sometimes those decisions are social, sometimes cultural or religious, sometimes geographical and sometimes a matter of life and death. When we insult or demean the beliefs of the Accidental Guerrilla, we're insulting and demeaning the believers. That only causes the group to circle the wagons and make their beliefs more hard core not less.

When parents who help anti-vaccination views where presented with facts about the benefits of vaccinations, they became more steadfast in their denials.  

Our beliefs are a story to the world about who were are and what side we're on. So whether its Syrian refugees, anti-vaxxers or Trump voters, the real trick is not just what we say, but how we say it.  Accidental guerrillas are all around us, if we take the time to reach out and listen to them, perhaps they'll come over to our way of thinking. Too often we can't see the accidental guerrillas from the real ones and then the lose is ours. 



The Attention Deficit

My morning ritual usually involves turning on the TV and watching a two or three hour loop of ESPN. I find it reassuring. It's the perfect background noise to get work done; I can ignore it or give it my attention as I choose. 

Over the last few months, I noticed a huge upsurge in the amount of commercials for Fan Duel or Draft Kings. Frankly, I can't tell one from the other, and the commercials are so poorly branded that they blend together as "those annoying daily fantasy game commercials". 

In communications, we often strive for attention. It's the grail -- how do we get our audience to pay attention? How do we make them take notice of us?  Often lost in the conversation is that attention is only a threshold; the message and emotions we deliver when we have folk's attention is the thing. 

According to Adage, they've spent $260 million in advertising this year alone. That's a lot of ads; it buys a lot of attention; maybe, it's brought them a lot of business (I'd guess). But here's the thing, so it's worth repeating: attention is only a threshold. 

The copious amounts of ads for Draft Kings & Fan Duel certainly raised my awareness of their existence. And I guess, taken together, they've raised my awareness that daily fantasy sports games are a "thing." So to that extent, you could call them a success...

But their commercials are so darn irritating. Multiply that by the fact that they seem to be on *all* the time and the annoyance factor is raised considerably. And throw in the ambiguous attitude we have towards gambling in this country, and you've got a potentially dangerous combination. 

What if the attention is exactly what they don't need? Sure it helps short term profits, but if your brand is murky, and you have a scandal that looks bad even if not illegal , then you end up on the wrong side of the New York Attorney General -- as is the case here. 

So what's the take away?

Be careful what you wish for. Attention is great. But attention without creating an underlying emotion, message or attachment can be dangerous -- it's better to be loved under the radar, than to alert folks to your presence who find you annoying at best or illegal at worst.