ISIS Brand-Modern terrorism through the prism of marketing

Alex Levin ID: 216289474

WARNING: This blog contains graphic images that some viewers may find disturbing.

The threat of global terrorism became part of our everyday reality. With great sadness we admit that number of terrorist attacks grows up almost exponentially to a degree that there is no single day without gruesome news about another jihadist attack somewhere in the world. The striking commonality between all these attacks is that ISIS is always in the spotlight and in most cases directly or indirectly linked to these terrorist activities. So who are they and why this group of people and their brand ISIS is so successful in what they are trying to achieve?


ISIS terrorist waving ISIS Flag and AK 47 in the middle of town of Raqqa, Iraq. ISIS uses this as a strong message targeting certain group’s in their online propaganda war. Image courtesy

We in the western world obviously see something of no value in ISIS, but for terrorists it may be of value. There is no doubt that ISIS succeeded to build very successful brand. Let’s evaluate ISIS through the prism of marketing strategy analysis and let’s see what marketing efforts and scientific methods they use for success of their group. And if  you wonder why should we bother? The answer is very simple –  we need to be one step ahead of them in this war. Yes, we are in the war imposed on us by  global terrorists and it’s “Eat or be Eaten” game!

According to Treacy and Wiersema marketing strategy theory, company should seek success in operational excellence, product leadership or customer intimacy (Lacobucci, Marketing Management, Ch 16). In this regard ISIS without doubt can be seen as a large business (claiming to be called Islamic state) with proper organisational structure which comprises, according to CNN “From the cabinet and the governors to the financial and legislative bodies, ISIS’ bureaucratic hierarchy looks a lot like those of some of the Western countries whose values it rejects”

Operational excellence

ISIS stands out among all other terrorist groups in the world due to the incomparable intensity and extreme terrorist tactics. Most other religious sects of Islam are riddled with internal strife, lacking strong leadership, and are perceived as a quarrelsome, dysfunctional family. ISIS stands out as the ultimate ideological choice for those young Muslim who looking for purpose and adventure and therefore vulnerable to ISIS’ invitations to build a Utopian Islamic State.

Their success in overpowering weak Iraqi and Syrian forces and occupying vast territories in both countries represents further proof that their zest for this extreme faction of Islam works and can be justified, especially in the eyes of their followers.

Bruce Riedel, a former CIA counter-terrorism official says the almost-daily attacks are part of a calculated, long-term strategy to create the impression of a world in chaos, “and a world that’s ripe for their argument that jihad is the solution to the problems of the Muslim world.”

Product leadership

Effort to build a strong brand requires an impressive and charismatic leader, brand evangelist or champion to drive the passion and effectively lead a movement. After few incompetent leaders that were killed by American and Iraqi forces (to the much of the embarrassment for ISIS and their parent al-Qaeda), new emir, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi that claims direct descent from the Prophet, has been in control of the organisation since 2010. He became very shrewd, well-connected leader that initiated the final break from al-Qaeda in 2014, enhancing ISIS’ position in the global jihadist community and establishing ISIS as leading brand in the world of global Islamic terrorism.

ISIS is an example of effective branding aiming to gain worldwide recognition and expand by attracting new recruits. Turbulent sequence of events in Iraq and Syria created power and leadership vacuum that became perfect market opportunity and perfect timing for strong, captivating brand image. Thousands of unfulfilled, dissatisfied customers (jihadists, in this case) quickly adopted the hypnotic ideas and messages transmitted by ISIS’ propaganda machine.


ISIS flag. White calligraphic writing means “there is only one god” in Arabic. ISIS created their brand association with this distinct flag through numerous videos and images in social media and internet

ISIS created strong brand name and brand Identity – also known as IS and ISIL or  Daesh, but ISIS  is the most commonly referred name. They have adopted striking brand symbol, a black banner comprised of a white calligraphic writing, which means “there is only one god” in Arabic, against a black, haunting background.

Customer intimacy

ISIS is targeting various customers and uses Social media like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Internet in general as their main communication and recruitment tool.  In addition, group uses Dabiq Magazine to determine the Strategic Vision of ISIS and explain their goals and ambitions as well as present themselves as a successful and efficient government.


Dabiq -propaganda magazine published by the ISIS. Image courtesy

Throughout manipulative use of Social networks and media ISIS shows to their customers that their basic needs in Maslow’s pyramid are not satisfied and creates illusion that blindly following their ideals is the only way to achieve satisfaction.

The main targeted segment is young, religiously ardent Muslims who feel alienated and rejected by life in the West, and therefore looking for purpose. This group has a potential to be radicalised and lured by ISIS’ invitations to build a puritanical utopia and support jihad and as a consequence many young Muslims have joined jihadists’ ranks.

ISIS execution

When targeting specific segments of population, ISIS’ videos have been produces with aim to spread fear and terror. Jihadi John (real name Mohammed Emwazi) wearing a mask in a video of a killing. This type of images was widely used by ISIS during their brand building. Notice very distinct colours of desert, black clothes, black flag in the corner and orange uniform. The videos are in English that targets specifically Western and non-Arabic speaking audiences. Image courtesy

The group uses completely different tactic when advertises to attract educated people and professionals. It uses completely different combinations of colours, logo and environment and the video looks like television drama rather than war zone documentary. For example, a video advertising ISIS’ health system staring Australian doctor Tareq Kamleh also known as Abu Yusuf Al Australia, video appears to be mimicking Britain’s National Health Service. Clearly this video is aiming to attract and encourage professional medical staff – a very specific segment of group’s much needed customers. And when targeting other segments, ISIS’ videos have been produces with aim to spread fear and terror.

As an epilogue to this discussion I would like to emphasise that it is important to study and analyse behaviour of sophisticated terrorist group such as ISIS in order to better understand their current modus operandi and be able to predict their future steps. Analysing ISIS’s marketing strategy helps to gain another perspective of this modern phenomenon  jeopardising our low and order.

ISIS caricature

ISIS ruins and destroys archaeological artefacts in a push to delete our history in most Barbaric and Medieval way. Image courtesy ABNA24, from Iranian cartoon competition.


Local marketing (Analysis of ISIS Marketing Approach), Mehran Khaleghi , Abulqaasim Ebraahimi , Yoones Zare and Hamid hamdam, Proceedings of Annual Switzerland Business Research Conference 12 – 13 October 2015, Novotel Geneva Centre, Geneva, Switzerland




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