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The Message has an Occupy Wall Street Problem

October 23, 2011


Dear Occupy Wall Street Protesters:

I was in downtown San Francisco today and came across one of your protests in the financial district. You got the financial district right, but today is Saturday. Nobody works down there on Saturdays. So you paraded through, yelling and singing to a bunch of tourists who were snapping photos of you that will fit into slideshows between photos of the Golden Gate Bridge and the sea lions. You are a tourist attraction. Plus, there were naked people in your protest. You need to think this through a little better.

I work in advertising. Maybe that makes me one of the corporate douchebags. I don’t know. But I do know a thing or two that could help you guys. Let’s start with clear messaging. In that regard, you guys kind of suck. Sorry to say that, but I need to be honest here. And I intend this to be constructive criticism, so don’t get pissed at me.

Granted, I’m not out there. I’m sitting at home. So admittedly, my participation—sitting on the sidelines and criticizing—is about the easiest thing there is to do. That said, before I sign up for a movement, I need to know what it stands for.

You’re good at being funny and ironic. But the end goal of this probably isn’t a good laugh. And you’re good at being angry. But anger is an emotion, and what I think you really need here is a message.

I’m pretty far from ideologically simpatico with the Tea Party movement. But the Tea Party, for all its faults, had a pretty clear message: Decrease the size of the national debt by cutting government spending by cutting the size of the government. I get it.

I’m probably more sympathetic to some of the issues of your movement. I blogged not long ago about the problem with the growing income gap in our country, for one. But I’d be really hesitant to join you right now because I see so many messages, unrealistic demands and lots of distraction.

To the people who are getting arrested—I’d like to ask the question: why were you arrested? Not what the charge was, but what did you feel so strongly about that you went to jail? I’m sure there would be some good answers. But the problem is that there would be a lot of different answers:

CEOs make too much money.

Blue collar workers don’t make enough money.

Wall street is greedy.

Lobbyists have ruined the government.

The 1% have too much money.

The 99% have no voice.

There are no jobs.

Bankers’ bonuses are too big.

The government shouldn’t have bailed out Wall Street.

The government should bail out Main Street.

The rich should be taxed more.

Fight corporate greed. 

Look at the signs at the protests. They’re all over the place. I get the feeling that this isn’t a unified movement as much as it is a bunch of angry people venting. You need some cohesion. You need to pull it together into a real campaign for something.

Three things I would suggest:

1)   Have an elevator speech. You and someone get in an elevator together. You have 20 seconds to make your case to them. Make it short. Make it sweet. Keep it simple.

2)   Make sure everyone knows your elevator speech. There is great power in a consistent, oft-repeated message.

3)   Figure out what your CALL TO ACTION is. You’re angry. Great. Got that. So once you figure out how to quickly and simply explain why you’re angry (see 1) and everyone is aligned on that simple reason (see 2), figure out what the hell you want people to do. Join the movement? Go to a website to learn more? Vote? Write their representatives? This should not just be an awareness campaign. It should be a campaign with action in mind.
There’s a policy we have in my department at work: feel free to bitch if you don’t like the way something is run, but only if you also bring a solution. Otherwise it’s just bitching. So what is your realistic solution? What actionable thing do you want the country to do? Fight Corporate Greed is not an actionable solution.

You know what I might suggest as a starting place? Write a brief. That’s where we start with advertising campaigns. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but it will help you focus. Your brief should answer these simple questions:

Who are we talking to?

What do they think now?

What do we want them to think?

Why should they think this?

Another good one to maybe add to this: What is our goal?

Good luck with this. I mean that sincerely. There are real problems with the system, and I admire you getting out there and trying to bring about change to make the country a better place. I also think there’s room for a real grass roots movement outside of the two-party system, maybe a counter-balance to the Tea Party. But for that to happen, and for people like me to even consider joining in (and getting the sideline watchers like me to join in is your tipping point), you guys really need to get your act together.

Oh, and one final thing: wear some clothes. Don’t make it so easy for people to dismiss you as wingnuts. You want me to be reading your clearly focused signs, not looking at your bits and pieces.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. October 23, 2011 8:45 pm

    I agree with your critique, especially regarding lack of focus. And one protester’s sign seems to suggest they haven’t heard the good news about Arrested Development. Anyway, since your name suggests an affinity for Disco, here’s something that is so bad it’s good: an Occupy Wall Street Disco song!

  2. David L permalink
    November 22, 2011 8:27 pm

    “To the people who are getting arrested—I’d like to ask the question: why were you arrested? Not what the charge was, but what did you feel so strongly about that you went to jail?”

    Civil Disobedience 101.

    • November 23, 2011 6:04 am

      Hey David-

      Thanks for the comment. Are you agreeing with my point that they need a clear cause, or are you saying that just going to jail is the central tenant of civil disobedience and thus reason enough?

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