It was in the fourth quarter of the year that Occupy became a brand. Just capitalize it, and everyone knows what you mean. The original geographical indicator of Wall Street disappeared—to be fair, it began disappearing when similar protests began happening across the United States and then, the world—but I’ve only noticed in the last few weeks that the simple utterance of the word Occupy brought with it a multitude of values. That’s what a brand does: it’s shorthand or code for a range of associations.
But what associations? If one believes some of the media, then Occupy is unfocused, with its protesters simply upset at the status quo. Others see it as an attack on the technocratic agenda and the multiple facets they possess, whether it’s the ﬁnancial system being broken (something Chris Macrae brought up at my ﬁrst Medinge meeting back in 2002) or corruption in politics.
The truth, at least initially, was probably somewhere in between. I never believed Occupy was one where there was some “protester class” (at least one media outlet believed that), and that its members came from a cross-section of society, even if a few of the international protests brought out a few of the usual suspects from antiestablishment groups. It was clear, early on, certainly from the social networks that brought more direct news than the mainstream corporate media, that everyday people were involved. To me, the most poignant images were probably that of retired cop Capt Ray Lewis getting cuffed by the NYPD.
However, there were so many conﬂicting emotions at Occupy that it would be hard to sum up just what people opposed. Maybe it was very hard to voice because there are so many parts to the system that they see is broken. I know when we did our post-Enron session at Medinge, we probably had three dozen Post-It notes on a whiteboard summarizing what we thought was wrong with the business system. They were then synthesized into eight points, not without some effort.
As the protests wore on, the synthesis has taken place. It’s not an unusual phenomenon: gatherings of people can take time to ﬁgure out, through dialogue, what their common grounds are. Better doing it this way, codifying through dialogue, than having a set of values imposed on you from above: it’s a way to preserve authenticity in the movement. A good set of values that represents an organization, in a formal, corporate setting, is usually the result of in-depth research into staff, channel members and external audiences. In the branding world, especially with social networks empowering communications, it makes more sense to harness people’s thoughts through the technology we have at our disposal.
It was interesting reading what Naomi Wolf had to say about Occupy in The Guardian. The crux of her article is not about brand whatsoever—she highlights potentially dangerous patterns as crackdowns take place and their implication for the US—but read on and she ﬁnds out there are certain things that Occupy wants through simply asking its supporters online:
No doubt there will be variations of these with Occupy movements in other parts of the planet.
I don’t know Ms Wolf’s processes, or how academic this Q&A was, but perhaps that is not the question here. What we should realize is that the movement is taking a more deﬁned shape, and the media’s contention that this is something unfocused is getting weaker by the day.