Kiwi ad man gives advice to Pentagon 

New Zealand advertising guru Kevin Roberts has been telling the Pentagon how to "spin" its war on terror.

His advice? "Call our struggle, the Fight for a Better World," American marketing magazine Brandweek reports.

Mr Roberts, chief executive of global advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi, was invited by the United States Department of Defence to address various "US defence intelligence agencies" at a conference in New York on March 9, according to Brandweek, which obtained a copy of his speech, Loyal Beyond Reason.

The New Zealander's recommendation - apparently derived from his 2004 book, Lovemarks: The Future Beyond Brands - appeared to have provided the concept for a term top Bush Administration officials used in August to replace the phrase "war on terror".

That phrase, "the global struggle against violent extremism", was widely ridiculed when US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and others began using it.

"Government officials have since gone back to using the 'war on terror' monicker," the magazine reported.

Mr Roberts - better known for his strong relationship with corporate America than his insights into suicide bombing - confirmed the March meeting.

"I was surprised to be invited," he said, adding that "the audience was intelligent, engaged, open and pragmatic; they listened keenly and we had a very lively discussion".

Mr Roberts said he did not know whether his words provided the thematic origin for the Pentagon's ongoing attempt to rebrand the war. But he is standing by it.

"They should change their language.

"The 'Fight for a Better World' is more inclusive, more optimistic and more engaging."

Brandweek said Mr Roberts was not the only Madison Avenue image-maker who had offered advice in Washington or taken a hand in branding the conflict in Iraq, but his words offered a rare look at what those people were actually saying.

The image of the war has become increasingly important as support for the Iraq conflict declines.

The key to winning, President George W. Bush told the United Nations last Wednesday, was that "we must defeat the terrorists on the battlefield and we must also defeat them in the battle of ideas".

Mr Roberts' theme was that America had to change the way potential terrorists felt about the US, and that the way American officials described the war was hurting, not helping, matters.

"The 'war on terror' doesn't have a lot of positive equity going for it," he warned.

The Department of Defence did not return requests for comment.

In 1999, Mr Roberts was at the centre of a political row when he wined and dined then-Prime Minister Jenny Shipley.

Mrs Shipley was accused by Labour Party opponents of giving "the clear appearance of a conflict of interest".

However, she denied this, saying she and Mr Roberts did not discuss Saatchi & Saatchi's Government contract for a multimillion-dollar international advertising drive by the Tourism Board.

- NZPA

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