Psychological unit tasked with getting messages to Iraqis
November 30, 2003
BAGHDAD, Iraq — Hearts may beat true for the red, white, and blue. But not necessarily in Baghdad.
The Army carefully avoids the all-American color combination in the handbills, posters, and other informational graphics it aims at the Baghdad populace, precisely because it’s so much a symbol of America.
“You want to avoid red-white-and-blue,” said Cpl. Yvette Anderson, a graphic illustrator with the 315th Psychological Operations Company, a Reserve unit assigned to the 1st Armored Division.
“All of our products — they avoid red-white-and-blue,” said Anderson. “Because they feel we’re pushing the American culture on them. So we avoid that.”
By itself, red is a touchy color, Anderson said. It’s associated with the Sunni Muslims, and is thus the wrong color to use in handbills designed for use in Shia Muslim areas.
“It also symbolizes danger,” she said. “So you’ll mostly see red in our danger products,” such as handbills that deal with terrorism.
Anderson’s unit has a handbook that offers guidance on which colors and themes to avoid in such things as handbills.
“We actually have a chart,” she said. “We like to use blue and green because these are neutral.”
When the Army recently sent out a handbill conveying good wishes to Muslims during their holy month of Ramadan, blue and green were the dominant colors.
Do they want to picture a mosque in one of their handbills or posters? Have to be careful about the type of mosque. If the graphic will circulate in a Shia area, a Sunni mosque is a no-go. Likewise, thereno Shia mosque images belong in a handbill bound for a Sunni area, Anderson said.
But colors and pictures are only part of it; getting the word’s right can be touchy, too.
“The most challenging part, I would say, is the text ... the verbiage,” she said. “Before we came here we actually had to study the culture a little bit.”
Anderson works in her company’s product development detachment. Each of the two teams in the detachment consists of two graphic illustrators and a team sergeant.
When the division wants a handbill or other graphic on a particular topic, the teams have a brainstorm session where they consider the best way to make the point.
“We’ll all talk about main points that we would like to discuss, what we think would be effective with the target audience, what might hit home with them, pictures that we might use, also things to avoid,” she said.
If the division leadership gives the OK, the handbill is printed up and distributed.
They’ve turned out handbills warning citizens to stay clear of unexploded ordnance, wishing Muslims well during their holy month of Ramadan, and telling them how to report criminals.
“The handbills have been an effective tool for communicating,” said Maj. David Tucker II, the company’s commanding officer.
“It’s quite a variety of messages,” he said. “And the handbill provides a way they can read the message and also take it with them and pass it on.”