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Combating reputational challenges with civilian technologies

Defence inventions are tools, and not just for the military personnel for whom they are created. They can, in fact, be used by the very companies who develop them to boost public perceptions towards the value of their work to society.

Here is an example. A cloak of invisibility is currently being developed by one of the UK’s top defence companies – who knew? As a pretty die-hard Harry Potter fan, I’m disappointed in myself for not knowing about this sooner. But really, I can’t blame myself – the media has barely covered it. One article in The Daily Mail in 2011 and a handful of mentions in niche publications isn’t enough to make it mainstream. And it’s definitely not enough to give its creator company brownie points amongst the public, thereby improving their reputation. Along with being a nifty invention for the battlefield, allowing tanks to become undetectable to hostile thermal imaging systems, the possibility that an invisibility cloak has the potential to become a popular toy for the kid in all of us is not a far-fetched concept.

It may sound strange that an object developed for warfare could also be used recreationally, but let us remember the drone, the must-have gadget of the Christmas season. Originally developed as a way to keep war pilots out of harm’s way, they have become increasingly popular for us normal civilian folk over the years. Besides being a popular children’s toy, drones are now on the cusp of revolutionising the delivery sector, as Amazon investigates ways to utilise the technology to quickly deliver parcels from warehouse to doorstep.

The technology, originally developed by the world’s defence companies, is fast becoming normalised within society. But drones are not the only innovations that are evolving from military invention into a civilian product – there are countless examples, e.g. autonomous cars, nuclear fusion reactors, space-based solar power systems, and technology to keep appliances cool.

In light of falling defence budgets in most of the developed world, and accusations that defence companies are guilty of fraud, profiteering, and human rights complacency, European defence companies will need to develop strategies to improve their reputations, as well as profits. While their product’s original purpose may have been to protect civilians, an innovative company can also use the domestic applications to defend their own reputation from the attritional damage of negative perceptions attached to military usage, while also opening up new revenue streams.

By emphasising civilian-friendly technologies and enhancing mainstream media visibility around R&D activities, the sector has the potential to build a positive narrative and help balance negative views about the sector’s place in society and combat reputational risks.

It may not camouflage bad publicity as effectively as an invisibility-cloak, but for defence companies it might just be the reputational armour they need.


alva enables you to understand when your company’s reputation is at risk and what impact your related initiatives are having. Ask us how this can help you.
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