What does the average person think of “Israel”?
They may think something positive like its beautiful beaches, ancient history, and great food. But from my experience, the average person is more likely to think something negative like war, terrorism, and the Mideast conflict. Google the word “Israel” (the aggregate of everything being written and posted online), and we will likely see similar headlines which negatively influence the perception of the country.
But, these are just the negative perceptions of Israel, and are not actually Israel.
Anyone that actually visits Israel is 100% more likely to experience Israel’s beautiful beaches, ancient history, and great food, and will never experience anything negative. The negative perception of Israel does not match up to positive reality of Israel.
In my opinion, this perception is due to Israel’s packaging and branding, but not as Israel as an awesome product. It is the external perception of Israel vs. what actually is Israel. But, this perception actually reaches and influences a significantly larger amount of people in the world than all the other people in the world that have actually had first hand experiences with the country.
Why is Israel so awfully packaged and branded?
Israel has a tiny population (less than 9 million, 0.1% of the world’s population), with only an additional 3-4 million that visit the country each year. Now contrast that with the billions of other people who have never visited Israel (99.9% of the world’s population) and have been exposed to all of the negative perceptions. If you click on that Google search result, you will see there is an astonishing 1.2 trillion search results for “Israel”, with many generated from those with different biases and negative agendas, especially Israel’s neighbors that do not even recognize that the country even exists. There are not as many people in the world with first-hand experiences visiting or living in Israel that can actually spread the positive. All of the negative perceptions influence the average person who might actually want to visit Israel if they actually perceived and knew of all of the awesome positives.
Israel is a challenging country to understand with many internal and external complexities (see below Conan O’Brien’s attempt to summarize Israel’s unique history in one minute).
On top of that, Israeli people themselves actually do not care as much about the packaging and branding as we do in the U.S. Israeli’s are much more focused on the actual product than the branding of that product, as a typical Israeli can care less about what you think about them.
But when you visit Israel, you will see first-hand how amazing the people are and how beautiful and diverse the tiny country is. But people cannot be inspired to visit Israel if all they see is negative headlines and content.
Now take a look at another Conan O’Brien video.
So what can be done to change the brand image of Israel?
Three things come to my mind.
#1: The Celebrate Israel Parade in New York City. There is no reason why it should not be the most exciting and celebrated parade in New York City and the world. Being replicated in other major cities around the world.
The annual parade celebrating Israel in New York City is called the “Celebrate Israel Parade,” and this year it takes place on Sunday, June 2, 2019. It is the single largest public celebration of Israel in the world. There are millions of people that are genuinely enthusiastic about Israel living in New York City who are well suited and energized to share the positives about the country. Further, the location of the parade should also distinguish the parade as being the best in the world, as the parade takes place on Fifth Avenue (the greatest street in the world) in New York City (the greatest city in the world). Yet unfortunately, on this global stage on Fifth Avenue in New York City, the Celebrate Israel Parade is one of worst parades in New York City. This huge opportunity is not being properly utilized, and when the parade is actually successful, it can be replicated in major cities around the world.
Why is the Celebrate Israel Parade one of the worst parades?
The Celebrate Israel Parade is a dull, long, boring experience for the spectator. It is poorly choreographed and staged. Even though the parade has taken place for decades, the Celebrate Israel Parade always seems like it is being assembled at the last minute, with no standard of who can march, what message is being conveyed, and how it is being executed. There are thousands of different parades and public gatherings that take place and world class entertainment at our fingertips, 24-7. On top of that, we have billions of impressions of digital and social media content competing for our attention span. Even worse, the parade does not engage or excite anyone outside of the standard Israeli or Jewish circle to be inspired about “Israel” or even the parade itself.
To illustrate this, below is the video last year’s Celebrate Israel Parade. You can fast forward to anywhere, it is basically all the same (Dr. Ruth riding in a convertible at hour 1:16 in the video is one of the few Instagram-worthy moments of this entire three hour long parade). No movie director will show you the same clip for three straight hours, it is unwatchable. Every float is basically the same of the previous float, and it goes on over and over again.
Below is a screenshot. There is no energy, choreography, or excitement. Not one person in this photo is even smiling, and they even seem bored and confused where to look and direct their attention to.
Further, the parade in its current form is actually not anything “Israel.” Watching the “Celebrate Israel Parade” is more like watching an “Israel Pride Parade” or “Summer Camp of Jewish Americans that Support Israel Parade” since most of the “Celebrate Israel Parade” consists of tens of thousands of Jewish Americans from hundreds of different synagogues and non-profit organizations, marching and waving Israeli flags, with each group wearing their own colored t-shirt, which appears to me like everyone is part of one big summer camp or one huge pride of Israeli supporters.
There is nothing wrong about an “Israel Pride Parade” or “Summer Camp of Jewish Americans that Support Israel Parade”, but if you brand this parade as “Celebrate Israel Parade” and you say you want to “highlight the vibrant and diverse State of Israel,” let’s use the parade as a rare opportunity to actually show and celebrate Israel!
The Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) is the official organization that produces the Celebrate Israel Parade. I do not actually know anyone there, but I hope to soon, as I have seen this parade experience take place in New York City for years in its current form without any growth or innovation. I do want the Celebrate Israeli Parade to be the most celebrated and exciting parade in the world, but I believe the problem starts with the top.
To illustrate this, below is a video from the JCRC float from last year’s Celebrate Israel Parade. To me, it is video is demonstrates the problem. No one is smiling, no one is waving, people are on their phones, no one is really dressed like they are going to be on a parade float and broadcast on television (i.e. how is this “celebrating Israel”?). The only person actually showing some excitement is my friend Irida Llambiri who is featured at 1:00 smiling and waving (she is not even part of the organization). I do think something needs to drastically needs to change.
Here is the Creative Theme book that was distributed from the JCRC. As you see from how these materials were put together, this is a parade appears to be organized by a teacher for their class of kindergarten kids (I know, because my mother was a kindergarten teacher). This does not present a strong representation of Israel.
Further, here are the marching guidelines. As you can see, it states on the last page “Good luck!” because “The whole world is watching!” Unfortunately, the whole world is actually not watching, and it’s actually the opposite, everyone but those who march in the parade are watching.
So as you see, the Celebrate Israel Parade in its current form is not visually appealing, exciting or fun to watch.
People do not actually want to watch it – have you ever planned to watch the Celebrate Israel Parade live on television? In contrast, have you ever planned to watch the the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade live on television? Are you right now in the middle of watching live the last season of Game of Thrones? If you are reading this in Israel are you or someone you in the middle of watching Bride of Istanbul (the Turkish soap opera the has taken Israelis by storm)?
It’s a simple formula of showing great content vs. showing bad content. The beauty of great content is that it gets talked about, replicated, and shared. The danger of bad content is that it does not stay in people’s minds, it does not end up seeing the light of day, and eventually gets erased from all human memory and existence.
We are a long way from that happening, but in the short term, as people perceive that the “Celebrate Israel Parade” sucks, then they might also perceive that “Israel” must also suck.
The impression we give to those outside the Jewish and Israeli circles is that the Celebrate Israel Parade sucks, as the parade is boring and few people are actually watching or sharing it on the sidelines. Since all these Israel supporters actually march in the parade vs. watch the parade, the parade always seems like no one is standing on the sidelines, which makes any spectator think the parade sucks even more because they do not see anyone actually watching it.
Therefore, almost all the people that currently march in the parade should actually be watching and sharing the content of the parade on the sidelines.
All these people are supporters of Israel, but the parade itself does not actually show Israel. Do not get me wrong, it is fantastic that all these people have come out to support Israel, but nearly all the people that currently march in the parade should stand on the sidelines and take photos and share on social media the content of the parade anyone and everyone and share what Israel is all about. The parade should also serve as an educational experience so that anyone can learn more about Israel while watching the parade.
Now let’s take a look at one of the best parades: the Gay Pride parade.
The Gay Pride Parade is one of New York City’s most exciting and celebrated parades. It’s very colorful, the floats are exciting and engaging, and there is a ton of energy and enthusiasm. The parade actually inspires and excites people to be part of the movement.
But, it was not always this way.
The Gay Pride Parade actually started from the Stonewall Inn riots just about 50 years ago, and the preceding decades were not welcoming times for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, intersex, and asexual or allied (LGBTQIA) people. The LGBTQIA brand did not start with positive public perception, as many hid from their true identity, and there were even laws against homosexual relations and statutes that allowed police to criminally arrest people wearing less than three gender-appropriate articles of clothing. Since then, LGBTQIA community has been fighting and continues to fight for its place in our society and has faced a huge set of challenges, including the AIDS epidemic in the 1980’s and 1990’s and today with equal rights.
The LGBTQIA community has fought to significantly improved its brand image in the past 50 years, embracing their identity, establishing their colored flags, and today the Gay Pride Parade is one of the most celebrated and exciting parades taking place in major cities around the world.
Israeli activists can learn a lot on how to change public perception, generate engagement and excitement, and create a strong positive brand identity.
So how do we do to change the Celebrate Israel Parade to drastically improve Israel’s brand image?
The Celebrate Israel Parade needs to completely scrape its format, starting off by taking almost all of its current parade marchers and put them all on the sidelines. Yes, tens of thousands of people who currently march in the parade do not actually belong there. They can do a better job for the parade by being on the sidelines, filming and sharing the content of a better parade experience with your friends on social media.
Now that we gutted out almost all of the current content, the parade needs to be very detailed and thoughtful about the projection and perception of the brand image of Israel. To properly project the “Israel” brand, a Creative Director first has to think and reflect. A good friend and Director of WindowsWear’s Workshop, Mr. Eric Feigenbaum, will advise that this Creative Director has to ask him or herself three basic questions:
“Who are you?”, “What do you have to say?”, and “How do you say it?”
Here are some of the responses I had when I asked myself these three basic questions of behalf of what is Israel?
Let’s get Gal Gadot, Bar Refaeli, Elie Tahari, even Gene Simmons (aka “Chaim Witz”) in the parade. Dr. Ruth would also fit perfectly here.
The history told in the Old & New Testaments. Let’s show ancient ruins, aqueducts, artifacts, or even a Noah’s Ark float.
At the same time the country is ancient, it is only 71 years old, and is very high tech and modern. We should show that.
An Innovation & Start-up nation.
Let’s get Israeli companies who have made a significant mark in the world: Waze, Wix. WeWork, Via, WalkMe, & Israeli-born entrepreneurs. Each one of these brands should have their own float.
Google, Microsoft, Intel, all have headquarters here. Let’s also show that.
In contrast, here is the float representing Israeli technology from last year. I’m sorry kids, your float does not publicly represent high-tech Israel technology, and this banner is better kept in your arts & crafts class.
Let’s have a float filled with sexy men & women.
Let’s show how beautiful the beaches are in Israel.
During the migration season, 500+ million birds pass through Israel, leaving Europe in the autumn on their way to Africa, making the long journey back in the spring.
Let’s get some actual Bedouins riding down camels on 5th Avenue.
Falafel, pita, and hummus.
Let’s have some gigantic falafel balls floating down 5th Avenue and pitas being dipped into massive bowls of hummus.
Zahav means “gold”. It’s also the name of an Israeli restaurant which was voted the #1 best restaurant in the entire U.S.
The paddle ball beach game that every Israeli plays on the beach. Let’s get hundreds of people to play matkot down Fifth Avenue. Or even better, a live VR matkot experience with actual matkot players on Israeli beaches with those on Fifth Avenue in New York City.
A first-responder country.
The Israeli military partners with the American military for joint exercises as well as participating in emergency relief efforts around the world. Let’s get some delegations together of both American and Israeli service members police, firefighters, rescue workers (the solider on the right is actually my cousin, Zohar Moshe, who is commander of Israel’s Search & Rescue team).
A Nation of Military Victories
Let’s have soldiers march who have fought in the 1948 War of Independence, the 1967 Six Day War (which my dad served as a paratrooper officer and saved a fellow solider’s life), the 1973 Yom Kippur War, and more.
The green of the forests, the yellow of the desert and the blue of the sea. Let’s show each one of Israel’s many colors in a float.
Israel is the only country that entered the 21st century with a net gain in its number of trees. Let’s show that.
The holy city for Jews, Christians, and Muslims. There is a Jewish quarter, Armenian quarter, Christian quarter, and Muslim quarter. Jerusalem and all of its diversity should be shown in in the parade.
A sister city to New York City. There are so many similarities between Tel Aviv and New York City, and we can have a Tel Aviv tourism float.
New Yorkers can fly via El Al to Tel Aviv direct from JFK. El Al should have a float.
Israel had a Female prime minister, a Muslim on its supreme court, and has most progressive gay rights in the Middle East.
The Israeli population consists of Europeans, Africans, Whites, Arabs, South Americans, and more, all living in peace. Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. Let’s show that.
There are Jews, Muslims, Christians, Druze, Arameans, Assyrians, and more. Let’s get some representation and delegations of all those religions in the parade.
There are tens if not hundreds of thousands of centers of Japan’s martial art, Karate, in the U.S. In comparison, how many are there of Israel’s martial art, Krav Maga? We should have a Krav Maga float and change that.
Orthodox Jewish men.
Let’s have a float of dancing Rabbis.
Orthodox Jewish women.
Let’s have a float of Jewish women.
A democratic ally and friend of the U.S.
Here we can have all the U.S. and state government officials that usually march in the parade like U.S. Senator Chuck Shumer, U.S. Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, NY Governor Andrew Cuomo, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, and more. As you see below, it doesn’t matter if you are a Democrat or a Republican to support Israel.
What am I missing? I’m sure there’s even more and more!
Will identifying and showing what Israel actually is help create positive and authentic impressions of Israel while generating more engagement and excitement for Israel and everyone involved in the annual Celebrate Israel Parade? I 100% do think so.
For all the people that currently march in the parade: it might sound impossible to tell all of you to stop marching in order to allow for a better experience. But, the parade is not about the brand of “you”, it is about the brand of “Israel”. You are better off supporting and sharing the content of what Israel is, which includes many different things I mention above, instead of showing yourself marching in the parade. By doing that, we can all inspire others to better understand and appreciate all the different things that make Israel unique and amazing.
Better yet, if your organization currently marches in the parade, instead of having a float that focuses on your organization, have your float focus on a unique aspect of Israel, that combined together with the other floats, will provide a full picture of what Israel actually is.
If this happens, the parade will attract, engage, and inspire more people to understand what Israel is all about, and more importantly build the positive and authentic brand image of Israel to combat the negative perceptions out there.
When people perceive that “Celebrate Israel Parade” is awesome, then they also might perceive that “Israel” is awesome, too! They might also want to be part of the movement, and we can replicate the Celebrate Israel Parade in other major cities around the world.
Two other things can also be done.
#2: Create a strong “Made in Israel” brand.
As you see from the above, there is no reason why people from around the world should not be as excited about Israeli products and services, the country has so much to offer. But, in order to properly sell something, you have to properly show something. And in order to properly sell Israel, you have to properly show Israel. It is really not that difficult, it is really easy, it is just not being done.
Let’s take Italy as an example. 70 years ago (the same time when Israel was formed as a country), Italy was an axis power and enemy of the U.S. Since then, Italy has completely transformed its government into a democracy, its economy and trade, and its brand image from negative to positive. In the past 70 years, Italians have been very thoughtful about the “Made in Italy” brand to convey the best in luxury goods, fashion, cars, and food. Israel has also had 70 years, but has done little as a comparison in branding its name.
The good thing for Israel is that in the next 70 years, consumers will be more focused on technology and digitally connected products. Israel is the world’s innovator in technology and digital, and can capitalize on this trend. The way to stop the BDS movement is to actually brand “Made in Israel” on all Israeli made products and embrace it.
#3: Get Educated
As you see, there is so much misinformation out there about Israel and so much awesome information about Israel that is not being properly communicated and shared.
Fuel for Truth is an excellent organization where you can learn the facts. I took the 10 week boot-camp last year and it was an excellent source of content, facts, and understanding about what is actually going on in Israel and in the region.
In closing, Israel is awesome, and you should 100% go visit.
Israel definitely has its challenges as it relates to things like socioeconomic status, immigration, racism, but its key values with those of the U.S. include democracy, equality, freedom, capitalism, military strength, and the maintenance of world peace are similar. It is also one of the few countries in the world that is a key ally and true friend of the U.S.
Actually seeing something for oneself is the best way to actually change someone’s opinion. That’s why organizations like AIPAC send every new American congressman and congresswoman on a trip to Israel. The Birthright organization has also hosted trips for over 600,000 people who have never been to Israel. But as I described above, so little people actually go to Israel. So, we need more and more impressions of all the good, including creating positive impressions through an exciting and inspiring Celebrate Israel Parade, branding high-tech and innovative products as “Made in Israel”, and being more educated will significantly improve Israel’s brand image.
For anyone that is in New York City on May 8th, I invite you to come celebrate Israel at the largest Israeli Independence Day celebration outside of Israel at LAVO!