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In the U.S., Saranga's office has launched a range of initiatives, both virtual and offline, to shift the image of Israel among audiences typically indifferent or even hostile towards the country. "Our research indicated that Israel is perceived primarily through two lenses: militarization and religion," says Saranga, who worked with New York-based Insight ResearchGroup (IRG) to conduct focus groups measuring Israel's appeal across the U.S. "What was lacking was a human lens."

Prior to the Maxim shoot, Saranga developed and launched a MySpace page representing the entire State of Israel. Post-shoot, he launched one on Facebook, as well. He also created a blog, isrealli.org, which offers stories about Israeli culture, from fashion and film to music and cuisine, which was recently updated with a richer video-based interface.

Israel's Ministry of Tourism has been ramping up the PR, as well. It worked with Sports Illustrated to have the magazine's 2008 annual swimsuit issue photographed in the Mediterranean resort town of Ceseara and on the Dead Sea coast, and worked as well with French Vogue, which dedicated two articles to Israel as a lifestyle and culture destinations in its February 2008 issue.

The tourism ministry also has been investing in more traditional marketing efforts, mostly in Europe and the U.S. For TV, Communications Plus re-cut a 30-second spot from its "Israel -- you'll love us" campaign, which ran in December. The spot, "60th Anniversary," features a new logo -- a boy flying the Israeli flag as a kite -- and contrasts the youth of the nation against the country's ancient history.

Such ads, says the Media Kitchen's Lowenthal, "help redirect the conversation, while reaching specific target groups."

Reaching new target groups was certainly the intent behind the most ambitious project undertaken by Israel this spring: a special 40-page supplement in British Conde Nast Traveller's April 2008 issue dedicated solely to Israel and its 60th anniversary. Produced in conjunction with the London office of Israel's Ministry of Tourism and poly-bagged to 85,000 magazines, the one-off supplement is "intended to expose Israel as a normal country to travelers beyond the 'ethnic markets' of Jews and Christian pilgrims," explains Uzi Gafni, director of the Israel Tourist Board in London.

Adds Roberto D'Andria, cd of Bear Design in London, which develops all of Israel's U.K. TV, print and shelter advertising: "It also provides Israel with a sense of credibility through brand association. Being linked with Conde Nast automatically gives Israel a sense of fashionability and exclusivity."

Fashion has played a key role in D'Andria's current Israel campaign, "Israel -- think again," which, much like the Maxim, Sports Illustrated and Vogue spreads, has focused on the country's natural beauty. Featuring beach backdrops and bathing suit-clad beauties, the work has actually downplayed Israel the country, focusing instead on specific Israeli destinations such as Tel Aviv, the Red Sea resort town of Eilat and the Dead Sea.

"While Israel has a volatile public image," says D'Andria, whose firm conducted research on people's perceptions of Israel, "people were far more open-minded to individual locations."

So much so that the print campaign resulted in up to four times the number of previous visits to the Tourism Office's Web site, reports Jeff Upward, director of Total Media International in London, which handles all of Israel's U.K. and European media placement. "And some 20 times more visits when the spots ran on TV and in the London Underground," says Upward, compared to the period before the ads ran. He adds that recent print and outdoor campaigns in Russia saw tourism to Israel increase by 130 percent from that country, while a print-only campaign in Italy boosted business by 40 percent from 2006 to 2007 (numbers from Total Media International).

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