Searching for the "War on Iraq"

 by Martin Belam, 25 March 2003

BBC News has been reporting that the Iraq war is the number one search term according to the Yahoo! Buzz index.

With a self-deprecating flourish the Yahoo! Buzz index announced that:

"surprisingly -- or perhaps not surprising at all to those who question the intelligence of the average American -- terms related to the war with Iraq never managed to upstage buzz mainstay American Idol"

It hasn't been much different this side of the Atlantic. The top ten searches in the last seven days across BBCi included: "eastenders", "games", "celebdaq", "cbbc", & "test the nation"

But it has made me wonder how much these lists are editorialised by the major search engines.

screenshots from google, lycos and yahoo! search charts

The Lycos 50 points out that despite the high interest in the 'war in iraq' "March Madness comes out on top". Of course they are referring to sport in the USA, although I'm not sure I can tell the difference. The Google Zeitgeist page has only a couple of war related terms in its 'fastest gaining' category

Looking through the searches on BBCi I have found that a lot of people are searching for information on Iraq, on the coalition forces, on the American POWs, and on the British armed forces killed by American fire. But I don't see one exact search term leaping out into the number one slot. One obvious difference is that the two biggest entry points into the BBCi site [ and] both have plenty of coverage of the war on them.

But it was the fact that I suspected people were looking for information on the Iraq crisis, and that the top search terms didn't reflect that, which led me to look at word bursts within search terms. As soon as this crisis passes and I get back into my normal work routine I hope to work on them further.


You see, that's the problem with wars these days - unlike 'celebdaq' or 'eastenders', they just don't get the branding right. What you want is one clear concise name that consumers can place in their emotional space. It's time Saddam and the UN Security Council got together with Saatchi to sort it out. :-)

Believe me, I have sat in meetings where the progress from 'Iraq crisis' to 'Conflict in Iraq' to 'War in Iraq' has been debated fiercely. And there is still debate as to whether it should be 'War in Iraq' or 'War on Iraq'. It is a subtle difference but the nuance is very powerful.

But then again, given that a lot of the world's media seem to be treating it like a giant global fireworks display the war probably needs a logo and a cuddly toy mascot.

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