Public Diplomacy and Moon Rocks

Public diplomacy has long been a tool in the arsenal of diplomats, to paraphrase Nye, and it’s easy to see why. Closely intertwined with soft power, it is a strategic way of imparting information about key policies and messages to other countries. The appeal of somemoon rock forms of public diplomacy are easy to understand – a female U.S. celebrity attending special an embassy event in another country and talking about women’s rights, for example, or a U.S. ambassador sharing a tweet to with thousands of followers. Recently, though, I attended a lecture about a far less obvious form of public diplomacy: moon rocks.

Yep, you read that right. Moon rocks. Now how on earth could a moon rock play an important role in the public diplomacy history of the United States? I was wondering the same thing myself a few weeks ago when I attended a lecture at the National Air and Space Museum about the moon rocks collected during the Apollo missions.

Although it sounds silly today, moon rocks carried a great deal of public diplomacy capital shortly after the Apollo Missions. At the time, a great deal of excitement and curiosity surrounded the rocks, which drew positive attention to the United States. The U.S. prominently displayed a moon rock at the 1970 World Fair in Osaka, Japan, where it was so popular that people would wait between four – seven hours just to see to it. I’m paraphrasing from my memory of the lecture, but one Japanese reporter apparently quipped that the United States needn’t have bothered to display anything else but the moon rock, and that people would have been grateful for the extra space to squeeze to see the aforementioned object. President Nixon also used the moon rocks as a public diplomacy tool. He distributed rice-sized fragments of moon rock to 135 foreign heads of state. The moon rocks were mounted on a wood plaque and looked fairly unimpressive, but this did not diminish their effectiveness as a communication tool. Part of the moon rock’s usefulness as a public diplomacy tool had to do with the scientific achievements that it represented for America and by larger extent, mankind.

While their popularity as public diplomacy tool eventually died, the moon rocks’ unusual legacy poses interesting questions about public diplomacy today. What kinds of public diplomacy tools do we have today, and are they more virtual than physical?  

By Kira

A tweeting State Department

One of the main rules any company should keep in mind when engaging in social media is that whoever is responsible for the blog posts/tweets/status updates/re-tweets/likes etc. should enjoy working with social media. Enjoying to work with this type of media will make the posts more authentic and believable.

When I read Comentez’ article I wondered if the people at the State Department responsible for all tweets etc. actually enjoy what they are doing and if they are truly aware of who their readership is.

When the article talked about how people had to learn how to write shorter reports and make shorter videos I could not get stop thinking that these people are old-school trained marketing folks (at best, at worst their training never involved marketing and outreach) to whom the idea of social media does not come naturally. It is true, every organization or company needs to adapt when a new marketing strategy is adopted (and the public diplomacy campaign is nothing but that). However, these tweets are not intended to sell more yogurt or advertise a Black Friday event. These tweets are supposed to represent the United States and it’s mission in the world. Can you really do that in 140 characters? Can you really create an interest? Spark a change? If you do not know who your readership is (exactly), aren’t those tweets and status updates just a feeble attempt in trying to reach anyone who is willing to listen?

A company knows who they are tweeting for (consumers with their special demographics, and maybe employees). A country tweeting for potentially everyone in the world? I’m not sure I see the overlap in the audience. Social media is great, but I think that for a nation it is not the way to do diplomacy.

What I do think will work better is what was mentioned in the article, the provision on wifi or cellphone net alternatives. This way the people themselves are engaging. They are required to come up with their own ideas and content. It is, in a way, helping people to help themselves. This is where the future lies and this is what “21st century statecraft” a.k.a. public diplomacy should be about.


where the reading got it wrong (imho)

I admit I do not know a lot about Islamic fundamentalism and Al-Quaida to say I am truly knowledgable but what I do know is that Khatib in her chapter “Communicating Islamic Fundamentalism” is wrong in putting Hamas and Al-Quaida in one category. She writes, “Al-Quaida is a network of movements operating worldwide … While the movements agree in opposing Israel, for example, not all of them engage in anti-Israeli missions (such missions seem to be conducted mainly by by the Islamic Jihad and Hamas in Palestine)” (Khatib in International Communication: A Reader, Thussu D. (Ed.) pg. 283). She implies that Hamas is a movement under the umbrella of Al-Quaida yet both share opposing roots and goals. In the case of Hamas the fight is concentrated on a national goal which is the independence of Palestine.

Just to be clear, I do not sympathize with either movement and am not making a political statement. But to put all movements in one box because they carry the label of fundamentalism with them is imho wrong. [This is also not to say that there is no Al-Quaida movement in the areas controlled by Hamas. I do not know if there is or not.]


The Evolution of Louis Vuitton

So we have been talking a lot of international communications as it applies to the nation-state, networks, international relations theory, cosmopolitanism, and so forth. Well this post wants to take a different spin on international communications and see it through the eyes of a couture handbag retailer, Louis Vuitton. (Just as a side note, I work in fashion retailing, so this post fits right in with that!) From the mind of 16-year old Louis Vuitton Malletier, who set out to be a trunk-maker, developed into a globally known fashion house. Starting in 1854 evolving to the 21st century, Louis Vuitton is recognized as the most valuable luxury brand in the world. Yet, throughout its transformation from 1854 to 2012, its adaptation to the changing international atmosphere has enabled them to maintain their recognizable brand throughout the world. And something that has further facilitated this dominance is via social media. As Caitlin detailed in her blog post, the pros and cons of social media, it seems to help Louis retain his valuable status.

In 2009, Louis Vuitton with the opening of their global ‘maisons’, launched their social media presence. While Louis Vuitton markets and develops products with a ‘traditional’ appeal, this social media presence helps them to bridge ‘modernity’. Pulled from an Louis Vuitton’s launch of the London ‘maison’, setting up a social media presence provides them one more avenue in their “global communication process.” So just as political movements, the Department of State and other actors incorporated social media into their international communication strategies, retailers have needed to do the same. While this is certainly an adaptation of Caitlin’s pros and cons article, it applies to more than just governments, NGOs, and transnational networks. Global fashion houses are cognizant of similar issues impacting their business, sales, and the continuation of the brand.

So while we have been discussing international communications in more of a state, non-state, and network light, Louis Vuitton along with the other traditional fashion houses (such as Chanel), have had to pick up their game as well. Integrating social media into their international communication strategies have helped them to uphold their iconic status across the globe!


P.S.: Just check out their Facebook likes!



A subject near and dear to my heart … Zumba. It seems a bit crazy to think about Zumba in the context of International Communications … but really the successful fitness program, developed by Mr. Beto Perez, has grown to over 150 Countries. Started in the mid 1990’s in Colombia, ‘Beto'(as he is called by Zumba-goers and instructors around the globe) accidentally created a whole new fitness program. Using salsa and merengue in place of traditional aerobics, this ‘dance-fitness’ took off. Through the help of entrepreneurs, Beto brought Zumba to the United States in 2001, starting with just master classes, Beto’s creation blossomed into a full-fledged fitness program known around the globe!

Using social media and strategic mission, Zumba continues to grow across the globe. Unlike other fitness programs, Zumba focuses on the ‘dance-party’. Typical programs stress sections of the body it tones, strengthens, or lift or emphasizes a ‘total-workout’. Well … Zumba went about it a different way, transferring the program into each new country, Zumba continues to frame the program as fitness “without the strain, without the sacrifice, just the pure joy of a party.” Zumba emphasizes fun for all, its line of programs – Gold, Sentao, Aqua, Atomic, and Toning – enable everyone (kids and older people) to get in on the party! Furthermore, its ability to promote its brand and it’s mission through Facebook, helped to carry the dance-fitness program overseas. By establishing individual Zumba Facebook pages in each new country grew into, Zumba could tailor it’s messages and programs to appeal to those new fitness goers. Zumba’s use of Facebook to grow the program has enabled it to become a global phenomena (unlike Jazzercize!). By framing it’s mission into each cultural context and relying on Facebook input as the means to develop the program internationally, Zumba Fitness is able to “spread the philosophy of health and happiness and of loving everything you do” around the globe!


More Information and more Intolerence

Wouldn’t the world be better if we were more informed? What if everyone in the world had unlimited access to information…would peace come to earth? Recent research demonstrates that access to information doesn’t guarantee a higher level of tolerance or peace. In their article, Powers and El-Nawawy examine the role of balkinization of global news or a shift towards a globally connected world. Unfortunately the research indicates that the world has selected balkanization over connectedness and tolerance.
Although access to information abounds in developed and even many developing countries, individuals often steer towards information that affirm their personal beliefs. More information, unfortunately, does not lead to a more educated and accepting world. Whether it’s the morning news or the evening documentary, few individuals will choose to lend their imagination to information that may challenge their existing views. Even worse, the news media has detected this fact and often pander to specific groups and sensationalize international conflicts based on the beliefs held by their viewers. Rather than providing balanced and honest news coverage, different media stations choose to reproduce negative stereotypes in ways that easily conform to the personal and national narratives of their viewers.
The goal should not simply be to provide more access to information, especially in light of recent research. We should instead seek to build a culture that encourages a diversity of views without stifling or perpetuating nay single position

RIP Twinkie

Twinkie’s Gone…VIRAL!

At age 82, it has come time where we lay to rest, a wondrous fluffy articificially-flavored and super processed bundle of pastry goodness—the Twinkie. While the media describes Hostess’ bankruptcy, social media users and their networks mourn the loss of Twinkie, a pop culture icon.  The loss of Twinkie has gone viral, but why? The world relates to such a processed pastry with great nostalgia and/or distaste.  In order to tie the Twinkie into our class, let us venture out by saying that Twinkie acts as a symbol of nationalism, branding, culture, globalization, modernization and other such “–ations” that I’ve failed to mention.

Although Twinkie came into existence around the 1930s, it really boomed after World War II, a symbol of food technology (homemade pastry in a cellophane wrapper) and modernization during an era where time turned into money.  Twinkie appeared in the many lunchboxes of schoolchildren as they fought to plunge their Wonderbread PB&J off the roof of their mouth. Twinkie quickly became a pop culture symbol appearing in several movies and on memorabilia, becoming a recognizable “American food” across the world. But, have you noticed that every country has some sort of creamy filled pastry whether processed or otherwise?

In Mexico, for example, Grupo Bimbo (parallels to Hostess brand, although with more brands and products), carries the line Marinela (started shortly after Twinkie in the 1950s), which is the maker of Chocoroles, Pinguinos (chocolate cupcake), Gansitos (my favorite), Submarinos (twinkie) and more. **NOTE: these are so delicious, by the way–more so than Hostess!** In fact, there was a Forbes article insinuating that the owner of Bimbo might be able to salvage Hostess by buying it out. Ironically, these processed treats are much more highly revered in Mexico yet not so much as a pop culture icon like Twinkie, which has appears on clothing, movies, TV shows and court cases. But, why is this so?