Curious about the current issues of the Occupy movement? Check out this article in The Stranger to learn about the repercussions of the May Day protests in Seattle.
Occupy Wall Street is an advertisement. You may be confused at that statement and even laugh, but through analysis of what the movement started as and what it has become, the characteristics of a commercial correlate to those of the movement.
Specifically, I will compare the qualities of OWS to qualities of a successful Super Bowl commercial. According to Alex Konrad, a reporter for CNN Money, the three aspects of a brilliant Super Bowl Commercial are story, brand, and equity (Konrad 1). These three qualities of OWS can be analyzed through looking at the logistics of the operation, such as how it began, the image it has created for itself, and the lasting implications that have been produced.
The story behind OWS is a primary driving force. The only way a story can appeal to its audience is to be strong and meaningful. According to a study found in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, “…ads with a strong story not only have a better shelf life in our memories, but also have it easier maintaining momentum in later ad campaigns” (Konrad 1). The matter in which the story is presented cannot be overlooked. The presentation needs to be simple, yet informative and thorough. If it’s too complicated the audience will get lost in the message that’s trying to be conveyed.
The true story of OWS lies within its origins. What started out from claims of economic inequality and frustration, expressed through peaceful and non-confrontational protest, has expanded into a wide array of motives with multiple methodologies being used. An example is the most recent OWS event, May Day. On May 1st, 2012, 50 occupiers were arrests; some protesters even threw police barricades into the middle of Broadway in an attempt to interfere with car traffic, while others sent letters containing white powder, presumed to actually be corn starch, to large financial institutions. Tactics for the day included protesting outside of Bank America for its predatory lending strategy that led numerous consumers to foreclose, blocking tunnels and bridges in New York City, and picketing outside of NYU in regards to their expansion plans in Greenwich Village (Barr 1-2).
A common interpretation of OWS is its intention to defend democracy, although some occupiers may argue with democracy is no longer present within the U.S. Nevertheless, OWS is still an evolving global movement that is consistently changing. One of my colleagues, emiliealoisia, states in her post Why Get Involved? Motivations for Supporting OWS Differ Across the Globe, “Since the movement lacks a clearly defined ideology, reasons for joining may differ between individual protestors. This is especially true when we consider the movement’s spread to other countries. Internationally, OWS has been used in a variety of ways, most of which are different from its original use in Manhattan’s Zucotti Park.” Because motives, ideals, and methodology have changed throughout the movement, they have become diluted through the cycling of old and new members. As a result, there is no solidified message.
The next key component of a successful Super Bowl Commercial is brand. Brand is the identity that is created for the message that the audience can recognize in any setting. Essentially, brand is the linkage between the story and what the organization stands for. Without this representation, there is no effect on the audience being reached out to.
Motifs and iconic symbols within an advertisement, and in OWS’s case a movement, should be synonymous with its ideals and are important to creating the brand. A large aspect of OWS’s brand is its structure. The main objective was to create a loosely horizontal structure in hopes of eluding the concept of a hierarchy. The movement has suffered as a result of this lack of solidified leadership. For instance, The New York Times heavily critiqued OWS by pointing out how the movement was not cohesive and was based on theory rather than practice. OWS responded with the idea of their own newspaper; yet occupier opinions on the topics to be addressed and tactics to be utilized varied greatly. One side wished not to “engage the system,” while the other wanted “all-encompassing demands” (Reeve 1). Because of the huge group divide in instances such as this, OWS has had issues developing a large consensus and thus, as The New York Times implied, a cohesive message.
But, OWS has made a pitch at organization and loose leadership principles. This is evident through their implementation of a General Assembly, a symbol of OWS because of its importance. It is a nightly congregation of individuals from various backgrounds who all bring various perspectives to the union. There are no leaders, but instead facilitators who run the meetings and switch responsibilities within and between meetings to ensure fairness and a sort of “anti-hierarchy.” The statement made by OWS’s implementation of the GA is vital to its brand.
Possibly the most important aspect of a successful advertisement, being that it is the culminating effort of story and brand, is a movement’s equity. Equit measures the impact a message has on an audience and more importantly, an organization’s staying power. Successful equity results in the audience’s appreciation for years to come, while lack of equity, in other words a one-hit wonder, result in a menial impact in viewers’ minds.
OWS’s equity can be measured by its economic, social, and political implications. But, what are they? According to my colleague, gvalerio2 in her post Can You Spell Success Without OWS?, no political or economic policy has been leveraged as a result of OWS, now 8 months into the movement. However, praise (as well as criticism) gave been given towards the movement. There has been praise handed out in support of OWS, mainly from Democrats, such as House Democrat Leader Representative, Nancy Pelosi, who states, “”I support the message to the establishment, whether it’s Wall Street or the political establishment and the rest, that change has to happen” (Desvarieux 1).
Socially, OWS has succeeded and failed in different areas. As I mentioned before, OWS started out as a movement and strong edifice for those who were dissatisfied with America’s direction. Unfortunately it has turned into a collection of individuals, rather than a cohesive movement. This is a result of having a reach so extensive that it has reached and influenced so many people that one congealed message may never be attained. OWS became a fad for some individuals, who in turn supported the movement half-heartedly. It has even become a pop culture parody in some cases, such as in the following Star Wars reference:
A fact about OWS is that it has raised awareness. It has become a global movement that has reached many cultures and countries extensively. I’ve even had the opportunity to conduct research in another Honors course on the socio-economic and political implications of the Occupy movement outside of OWS, through analysis of movements in the UK, Nigeria, and other cities in the U.S. All movements share a common knowledge of the basic beliefs of the movement, mediums of distribution (social networking), and (peaceful or not) some implementation of mass protest.
Comparing Occupy Wall Street to a Super Bowl commercial is not meant to be demeaning. OWS has been used as a tool to raise awareness to a cause, just as a commercial is used to raise awareness for a product. Both aim to gain a following. The story behind OWS is there, although continuously evolving. The brand has made its statement through logistical structure, yet remains diluted in overall principle. Now, has OWS established lasting equity for years to come? Yes. The movement may fizzle out in the coming months or years, but the impact of global awareness cannot be undermined.
Mark Bray, Ph.D. History student at Rutgers, said in regards to May Day, “There was a sense of novelty to Occupy in October…Today is more celebratory, and nostalgic” (Barr 2). Occupiers wanted their beliefs to be heard. The world has listened.