Apocalypse Advertising: A PSYOP Primer – Forward Observer Shop

Apocalypse Advertising: A PSYOP Primer

Like many aspects of practical, post-grid down security and preparedness, psychological operations (PSYOP) is a subject of tactical and strategic importance that all too often are given ample lip service, despite a complete lack of relevant frame-of-reference. While a lack of frame-of-reference when it comes to gunhandling, physical training and small-unit tactics will have a significantly negative impact on your individual and family/tribal survival, this same lack in regards to PSYOP — especially when you ignore your ignorance and attempt to produce PSYOP products — will also have a significantly negative impact on my family’s survival, since a poorly developed, ham-handed attempt at developing PSYOP products will generally result in the exact opposite effect you were aiming for. That means you will actually be driving off potential allies and strengthening the resolve of the enemy.


Definitions, Scope, and Purpose

“Persuade. Change. Influence.”

PSYOP can be defined as a series of planned operations intended to convey selected information and indicators to specific audiences, in order to influence their emotions, motives, beliefs, and ultimately their behaviors. Targeted audiences, in our context, may include government employees, opposing political organizations, groups with opposing or related interests and goals, and individuals within any given demographic.

Ultimately, the most important purpose of PSYOP is to induce or reinforce behavior favorable to your overall strategic and tactical objectives. Anything else that results from your attempts is misguided and wasted effort at best, and flat suicidal at worst.

Generally speaking, successful PSYOP efforts can encourage or increase popular discontent with opposition leadership, while increasing support for your own cause by combining persuasion with a credible threat. It’s the practical execution of “talk softly, but carry a big stick.” The drawback to this for the typical patriot-prepper is that in order to be successful, all of your PSYOP products must be credible. All products must be consistent and not contradict each other, but more importantly, any information disseminated has to be believable!  If you’ve not received the training and experience to back up your thinly veiled threat that backs up your PSYOP products, there’s no credibility. If you’re pontificating about the President of the United States being the direct and immediate descendant of reptilian aliens, your message lacks credibility to anyone over the age of 6, unless your target audience is composed solely of National Enquirer reading residents of the trailer park.


Types of PSYOP Product

Professionally speaking, there are three types of PSYOP products: white, grey, and black. White PSYOP is truthful and not strongly biased information, wherein the source of the material is acknowledged openly. Broadcast teams of PSYOP soldiers, with their truck or rucksack-borne loudspeaker systems, and leaflet operations that encourage enemy fighters to defect or surrender, are obvious examples of white-side PSYOP.

Grey PSYOP is largely truthful information, while any “untrue” information is of such a nature that it cannot be disproved. More importantly, the actual source of the PSYOP information is masked through attribution to other sources, such as non-aligned groups, independent media sources, etc.

Black PSYOP is inherently deceitful information, the source of which is disguised by attributing it to the enemy (generally speaking). This is the ultimate expression of disinformation.

In the general imagination, when the application of PSYOP efforts is considered, the first images that come to mind are leaflet drops. To combat veterans of recent vintage, this will be closely followed by the image of a three-man PSYOP broadcast team with either HMMWV- or rucksack-born loudspeakers. While both of these are legitimate examples of how PSYOP product can be delivered, the totality is that PSYOP dissemination can be much more widespread.

At the tactical level, besides the employment of loudspeaker teams, face-to-face encounters with the local population and the dispersal of leaflets, fliers, and posters are common tools. More deliberate efforts at the tactical level, as well as at the strategic level, may include radio and television broadcasts, as well as the well-known and previously mentioned leaflet operations.

At the strategic level, PSYOP efforts may focus on the publication of printed materials like magazines and newspapers or the placement of information within media sources that reach a wider audience. This can be particularly effective since as everyone knows, “they can’t put stuff on television if it’s not true.”

One method of PSYOP dissemination that we’ve seen a recent surge in the application of is the obvious: the internet. Through the construction and maintenance of websites and social media pages, to efforts to guide search engines to guide potential readers to your sites, the internet genuinely should be your go-to first choice for the dissemination of effective PSYOP information, even locally.

It’s popular — as one example — within the patriot-prepper movement to denigrate Facebook and other social media sites because of the inherent personnel security violations built into them. On the other hand, as any 12 year old can tell you, pretty much anything anyone wants to know about you can be found on the internet, and being on Facebook is so common now that not having a Facebook page is actually more of a target identifier than having one is.

More importantly, Facebook has over 1.5 billion users, many of whom onto their Facebook account each day. Between your own social network and the connection of social networks of each of those individuals, you might be surprised at how quickly and effectively that a legitimate, well-crafted PSYOP product can be dispersed. There are, of course, infinite other internet resources for the effective dissemination of PSYOP effort, however, ignoring the internet is done only at your own loss.


Patriot Prepper PSYOP

Ultimately, patriot-prepper PSYOP should encompass a range of efforts, with a variety of target audiences. First, there is the ongoing effort to reach like-minded people already within the movement and convince them to alter their behavior by actually getting training, then getting outside and practicing what they learn and using their gear in a realistic, effective manner.

Second, we have to reach out to like-minded people, amongst libertarians, gun owners, non-political preppers, and groups that should share our goals, whether they realize it or not, and whether they currently share our values and goals or not.

Finally, we have to reach and influence the behavior and mindsets of people intrinsically opposed to our goals and values. In this last case, we’re not concerned with convincing them to side with us, but to either leave us alone or to be so afraid of us, that the mere thought of our presence makes them piss themselves.


The 7-Step PSYOP Process

Within the established, professional PSYOP community, there is a 7-step process used to develop PSYOP materials, in order to garner the greatest benefit for the efforts expended. While not all of these will apply directly to our efforts, understanding and incorporating the process into your PSYOP effort will allow you to create more effective PSYOP campaign that serves specific goals and messages to target audiences.

  1. Planning. The first step of the process involves the formulation of PSYOP objectives, specific to the mission and/or target audience(s).
  2. Target Audience Analysis. Potential target audiences are refined and analyzed in order to determine the most effective methods to influence the behaviors of the target audience. The military utilizes a Target Audience Analysis Worksheet (TAAW) for this.
    This analysis is the single-most important task in developing well-crafted PSYOP products.  You absolutely, positively must possess sufficient knowledge and understanding of a target audience in order to develop effective methods to influence their behavior.
    Contrary to popular delusion within the patriot and prepper communities, “Grab them by the balls, and their hearts and minds will follow!” is not a valid PSYOP effort. As I pointed out to someone in a class once who voiced this opinion, grabbing them by the balls generally leaves them a hand free to punch you in the throat. While it may work with some people and groups, using force as your end-all, be-all approach to PSYOP is a pretty solid way to ensure someone stabs you in the back down the road.
  3. Series Development. Once you have developed what you hope is an accurate analysis of your target audience(s), then you can begin to develop a PSYOP product series. All of the interrelated products designed to elicit a specific behavioral change from a specific target audience is referred to as a series. They must all work together and be synchronized.
  4. Product Development. Once your series is developed and planned, then and only then are you prepared to start actually developing and designing the PSYOP products that will disseminate the messages you hope to use to change the target audience behavior.
  5. Approval. Step Five for the military PSYOP force is gaining approval from higher of the proposed product. For our purposes, not having a strategic level chain-of-command, and hopefully remaining focused more on the local level than the strategic, the approval process may simply be a matter of having someone within your network, but divorced from the PSYOP development effort, take an objective look at the material developed and ensure that a) it will actually have a positive effect on the target audience, and b) it is adequately targeted to the intended audience. Sending a message of Christian love and hope to the local imam—for an exaggerated example—is probably not only not going to reach the target audience, and it won’t do much to elicit the desired change in behavior either.
  6. Production, Distribution, and Dissemination. This involves producing enough copies of the product to distribute to the end-user who will disseminate the product to the target audience, as well as the dissemination by these individuals to the target audience. This step, like all the others, is part of the initial PSYOP planning phase.
  7. Evaluation. The final phase of the PSYOP process is evaluating the effect that your products are having on the target audience. This step begins with the development of the initial assessment criteria during Phase One, as you determined what would constitute a success with the effort.

Image via Christopher Dombres

John Mosby is a former U.S. Army Special Operations soldier. He lives somewhere in the mountains.

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