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A Rebel With a Cause, But No Clear Message

October 4th, 2011

What is Occupy Wall Street? If you’ve tuned into any of the YouTube footage of the protests in lower Manhattan, by now you know that it’s Main Street vs. Wall Street. A few of us began to notice this small uprising about 10 days ago in Zuccotti Park through local print media or online outlets. (For those of you outside of NYC, I’ve been here 27 years and I’ve never heard of Zuccotti Park. Neither have many native New Yorkers that I speak with.) The mainstream media, for the most part, did not report on the gathering of people for the first few days or weeks. Last Saturday, the whole story blew into the evening news at full strength after 700 were arrested.

The movement started as a ragtag gathering of young people opposed to a group of broad, but related, causes: Corporate greed, influence of the wealthy, and social inequality. Nothing was reported. There was almost no explanation about the purpose and we only recently began to learn the mission, if one can call it a mission. But the movement, or uprising, or protest — whatever it qualifies to be ultimately — has no aim, no leader, no demands. To date, it has been a disparate show of demographics and force meeting the brutality of the NYPD, as so many viral videos can show us. It was difficult not to be taken back to the discord among university students in the late 60’s and 70’s.

According to The New York Times, “Three weeks into the protest, similar demonstrations were popping up in other cities across the country with the aid of social media and with the same loosely organized structure as the original demonstration.” The movement was apparently inspired by recent, similar uprisings in Libya, Egypt, etc. I’ve noticed that not many New Yorkers appear very interested, and I wonder if this is an apathy that was cultivated over years of feelings that nothing we could do would actually change anything. People here in New York City are just as impassioned as activists, I would think. But I mostly see professionals carrying on with their daily routines, unfazed by a grassroots organization that appears to be gaining sustainability, even growing nationally. I work on 30th Street and these daily events are happening just a mile or so away. Yet, you would never even know it until you visit a news website, read a local paper or watch the evening news report.

And honestly, who could blame the American people for welling up in protests and at times, teetering on the brink of violence? Last week it was reported that Léo Apotheker would take $13.2 million in severance after a dismal performance at the helm of Hewlett-Packard. Nice work if you can get it, which, in contrast, well above 9 percent of the American people cannot. And his story pales in comparison to John Chidsey who left Burger King after 6.5 years and received the equivalent of $50 million in severance. Sort of gives a whole new meaning to “having it your way.” Talk about a Whopper.

Or Robert Kelly, formerly of New York Mellon, who took $41.5 million to hold him over until his next gig. Poor Carol Bartz must have felt badly: Yahoo! only doled out $21.3 million to help her eke out a living. It’s almost as if the Boards of these companies are trying to incentivize failure or poor performance at the top. Why would any organization agree to terms in a contract that stated large payouts in cash and stock in the event of being fired?

Where I come from, it’s still about performance and delivering. I know there are still many people out there who want badly to work, to feel a sense of achievement, and who are capable.

The Lucrative Fall From Grace

And in the meantime, many Americans continue to struggle as we complete an ominous 3 year anniversary of the worldwide downturn. If we’re in a double dip, I wish someone would have tapped me on the shoulder when things were going well. To me, that bump in sales was not significant enough to be called a recovery.

The thing that fascinates me most about this event, or however we rightly term it, is that the messages are not clear or apparent. We see and understand that Americans are rallying because they are unhappy, but there is no platform for change, no reasoned, intelligent communication. If there are, I’m missing the right channel to listen. It’s almost as if many people have aggregated simply to express their frustration.

I was inspired and appalled in equal parts over the past week as I began paying more attention. That so many people cared and chose a peaceful forum to project grievances was a positive sign. When there was a rumor that Radiohead would perform, it began to sound more like Woodstock or a Lollapalooza festival: Not exactly the stuff of substance, so much as a bunch of young hipsters seeking a fun party. And clearly, the NYPD didn’t win any accolades for “best community-building brand” in their heavy-handed mismanagement of it all. If anything, that seemed to galvanize the protesters.

There doesn’t look to be a clear spokesperson, either. If I could give the organizers any advice (can we even locate them?), I’d share that no brand is ultimately complete without a voice, a well articulated brand story. It’s fun to support a cause and jump onto a boisterous bandwagon of blame and malcontent, but no movement will ever truly gain traction without clear goals and a sharp, effective way to share them.

Occupy Wall Street does seem to be gaining ground in other cities, due no doubt, at least in part to the myriad channels of social media and ubiquitous online video. Technology is one reason. The roar of a few hundred million people in debt and unemployed would be another. But without a clear message and brand, my suspicion is that it will all be doomed to fizzle into a dozen or more splinter organizations that, like so many cause-based groups, spend the majority of their time in fund-raising. Occupy Wall Street could, in the future, be holding benefit galas and small fundraisers. . . imagine it. Waldorf Astoria, 2016. Wouldn’t that be a sight?

Anti Wall Street Protests Spreading to Cities Large and Small

Gunning for Wall Street, With Faulty Aim

Occupy Wall Street Protesters Remain Defiant

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, October 4th, 2011 at 1:33 pm and is filed under Brand Identity, Business, Marketing, Media, Social Media, Technology. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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