Branding: Israel as Battlefield

  • May 30th, 2008 by Fred

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Jerusalem Post

Our very own Martin Kace was the keynote speaker at the “Environment 2020″ conference in Tel Aviv back on April 1st. His talk hilighted his vision for the branding of the Israeli environmental movement, and we’ll be adding some clips from the talk soon. Both The Jerusalem Post and The Marker interviewed Mr. Kace about his vision after the talk. Below is a clipping from The Jerusalem Post followed by a translation of his interview from The Marker which was conducted in Hebrew.

Jerusalem Post
Jerusalem Post

Tanslated from “The Marker”

Eight years ago, Martin Kace set aside his business, moved into a new office, and established a not-for-profit company specializing in branding and building web presences for organizations working for the public good. He relishes the prospect of working on Israel’s branding, claiming that “Israel’s public campaigns aren’t working as well as they could”.

Mr. Kace is a “born again” businessman. His success in many new and highly creative marketing ventures in New York City has enabled him to shift gears and work with environmental bodies that seek his marketing acuity and vision. A native New Yorker, he is in Israel to deliver the keynote address at “Environment 2020″, a presentation about environmental branding. The conference will take place on April 1st at Ganei Hata’arucha, Tel Aviv.

In the year 2000, Martin’s life changed radically as a result of an accident which left wheelchair-bound, paralyzed in his legs. “After what happened, I came to realize I needed to use the knowledge and experience I’d learnt from business marketing, and apply it toward a direction that I had experience with– branding and marketing, but for a better cause. With that in mind, I established Empax”. The New York organization has been working very successfully with environmentally-concerned companies and organizations for the past 3 years. Its slogan is: “We Brand the Good Guys.”

What is the most prominent project your company has worked on thus far?

“The Alliance for Climate Protection”, Al Gore’s organization. We developed his website

Do you work on a voluntary basis?

We are a not-for-profit group, but we do get paid. We provide services that can match any other good commercial firm, but at lower rates, and with a knowledge base that is unique.

This is hardly the first time Mr. Kace visited Israel. He lived in Tel Aviv during his high school years–and graduated from Hebrew University. After attaining his Masters degree at Columbia University at 23, he entered the business arena and became president of the Pierre Cardin apparel company in Canada. After twelve years based in Montreal, he sold the company, returning to his native New York City, where he became CEO at Joe Boxer a well-known apparel company, helping it to realize tremendous growth. In 1996, he joined Russell Simmons as a partner in the hip-hop apparel company Phat Farm, also as CEO.

What does the branding concept encompass?

It starts with the logo, and extends to the company website which we develop in tandem with the company. We consider and design what enters into the company as it develops, and what proceeds from it. Too often the company’s image reflects only the artist designing the website, inadequately presenting the company’s goals and substance. What I always do first, is meet the administrators, and ask them questions about the company, and what it represents to them. This is done to help them identify the unique aims of their company, and helps us to consider managements’ own motivations as individuals as we create or re-shape a brand.

What are the differences between branding commercial and social enterprises?

As far as my company goes, the approach is the same. One of the problems both in Israel and other countries is that there’s insufficient focus on the user’s experience. People usually use only 30% of the functions that a machine, such as as a computer, offers. Companies will often offer overly complicated products, usually believing that added features represent added value. In fact, the users they’re talking to are not their customers, but rather their competitors. This does little to satisfy the consumer. At Apple, on the other hand, the magic and power inherent in simplicity are very well understood.

What do you think of Israeli branding?

Israel is at a crossroads, in many ways. One route will lead toward attaining the status of a developed nation– the other, of a developing one. Israeli tech innovators, for example, do not know how to create brands, as is evident in the products used in many Western homes- where voicemail and text messaging, for example, are circuited with Israeli technology. Those who use them have no idea of that. While Israel invents amazing technology and is able to find partners abroad to invest in it, industrialized countries brand Israeli technology as their own. Israeli tourist campaigns also don’t work well enough in that regard, and lately only address Jewish people abroad considering a visit here, with silly taglines like “Israel…who knew”? It’s as though they are trying to make us think that Israel is “Greece for Jews”. We have to broaden the appeal to other sectors as well, and make them aware of the beneficial products and inventions made here. That would involve a much more honest and open approach that does not whitewash the international community’s vision of us.

You speak of Israel as your own native country.

Well, as I am Jewish, and grew up in Tel Aviv, I continue to be connected to this place. My mother lives here, and I travel here very often for business and social visits. My heart essentially, is in Israel.

It seems that all the environmental organizations are colored green. How can we differentiate between them?

Red is the new green. The ubiquitous green has become trite, like so many of the peace symbols. Since so much of Israel’s image is military, it is difficult for it to represent itself as a “green” country. If it endeavors to make its environmental stance similar to Holland, it must divest itself of its military image and color itself green. This is incongruent with the current reality. I think it best to align ourselves with our current perceived image, but adopt its organized aspects to the civil arena: those of strength, creativity, and a willingness to try new things in ways that are beneficially efficient.

What would you suggest can be improved?

Israeli green branding has co-opted international patterns. It hasn’t got its own distinctive “voice”. It needs to find one. If it can project the ongoing struggle to improve the environment, it will be able to unite the public behind it. It must startle sometimes. And who knows? The world might even like us a bit more.

How important are the people associated with the green branding concept? What of celebrities? Would “The Disturbing Truth” have had such a wide distribution without Al Gore?

Of course not, but you can’t underestimate the importance of the persona driving a campaign. It would never have been successful had Brad Pitt, for example, headed this venture and not the former Vice President of the USA. It is all the rage these days to have celebrity names associated with products and companies, but I predict “celebrity fatigue” in these areas soon. There are far more creative and real ways of drawing people’s attention and engaging them.

Do you think the business sector has to take on social responsibility for preserving the environment?

Absolutely. If the business doesn’t shoulder the responsibility in a real and meaningful way, then government is forced to make business comply, something we are not completely comfortable with in the US and in Israel. That said, some companies do shoulder their environmental responsibility, but most only fake it to enhance their appeal to customers. “Greenwashing” is a dangerous practice, and public proclamations in advertising or through PR only make matters worse. Those who work quietly actually end up with a more satisfied user – like Apple did, as they now send along a telephone number to call to recycle a customer’s old computer with the shipment of every new one. They don’t advertise it. They just do it.

Even if it’s not profitable for them?

That’s not how they see things at Apple and other environmentally responsible companies. They understand that good environmental behavior attract customers. Profits do not stand in opposition to the green objective. Environmental goals are not a punishment or sacrifice like a diet or severe restrictions. They are simply representative of a newly reframed set of individual values.

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