What #OWS Teaches Us About Branding

What #OWS Teaches Us About BrandingIrony. That’s what it is.

By that I mean the questions that are being asked of those who support the Occupy Wall Street movement (as I do). We are asked “What is your message?” “What are your ideas?” “What are your demands?” “What is Occupy Wall Street about?”

The implication is clear: #OWS does not have a mission statement or a vision, and therefore cannot be legitimate. That’s irony.

The irony is that the Occupy movement already has a mission that runs so deep, it can’t be put into words. It has what many giant corporations spend decades building. It has the intangible brand value that Coca-Cola, Apple, Google, McDonald’s and yes, Citibank strive to cultivate and maintain. Those brands aren’t only about cool designs, tasty food and low prices, they’re about people who share beliefs and want to be part of a community.

“We are the 99%.” Madison Avenue couldn’t have said it better.

Occupy Wall Street is being mocked by those who own, run, and shill for big brands, but #OWS is what all brands want to be.

Another staggering irony is that this initiative was created pretty much out of whole cloth by a Canadian magazine, Adbusters, that built its organization in the opposition of giant corporate brands. If you’ve never seen (or even heard of) the magazine, it commonly runs articles about things going on in the globalized corporate world that you’ll never read in the mainstream press, interspersed with mocked full-page advertisements from big companies with scribblings such as “The CEO of this company has 14 houses.” or “This company’s products killed 4,300 people in South America last year.”

It’s truly counterculture. And now its mission has become mainstream. That alone should scare the bejeesus out of America’s corporate leaders. That people are flocking to the movement, and that it is growing around the world, are the reasons corporate and government leaders are pulling out all the stops to shut #OWS down.

Great brands are dangerous. How many corporate marketing executives in second-tier companies ask “Why can’t we be Starbucks?” or “What is it people love about Ikea?” over and over? How many clients of brand B gripe that so many of their friends prefer brand A and its ‘obviously’ sub-par products? It’s brand envy. Everybody wants to be the hip new thing. Everybody wants to capture lightning in a bottle. Everybody wants to be part of something huge.

That is what drives the Occupy movement right now. It has a powerful brand message; “Change The Way Things Are”. So many companies aspire to make their audience feel like part of something that changes the world. The #OWS phenomenon is destined to actually do that. It makes Apple’s groundbreaking 1984 ad look like a lame, pretentious approximation of a real movement.

The irony.

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