How Marketers Would Brand Occupy Wall Street

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Posters cover an ATM during an Occupy the London Stock Exchange demonstration, inspired by Occupy Wall Street, on Saturday.

To build a brand—or a movement—that is successful over the long haul, marketing experts say that it is essential to establish definable goals, spread a simple, clear message to the masses, and have leaders to oversee the agenda. So far, the Occupy Wall Street protests, which by now have spread far beyond New York City, aren’t doing any of these things.

A strong anti-capitalism streak runs through the Occupy Wall Street movement. So why should protesters heed the advice of brand and marketing gurus, who spend their careers promoting business interests? Because marketing experts understand the power of ideas, and they know what it takes to sell ideas to the public and make them sustainable.

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That’s the premise of a San Francisco Chronicle story that asks various marketing experts to weigh in with insights and advice for the Occupy protesters. So far, the movement has been very successful at creating awareness—which is essential to creating a strong brand. Other than that, however, the movement is disorganized, vague, and otherwise highly flawed, and likely to peter out as a result, according to the experts consulted.

Miro Copic, a marketing professor at San Diego State University, warns that without clear-cut goals, the protests are bound to lose momentum:

“Any corporate brand stands for something, whereas they don’t stand for anything specific. In two, four, five weeks when it gets really cold, if they don’t have a reason for being, even the most ardent people are going to go home.”

As far as brands and slogans go, “We are the 99%” and “I am the 99%” resonate strongly with the public, according to the experts. Copic thinks the idea that “the American dream is dead” should be the core logo binding the movement together.

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But while these phrases nail the frustration and anger felt by the masses, they don’t translate into actions, let alone actual solutions to problems. That’s where leaders are supposed to come in—to help the protests segue from passionate outcry to real-world changes.

There has purposefully been no individual face to the Occupy Wall Street protests. By design, the grass-roots movement is leaderless, and it welcomes all comers and all demands of the power structure. This has helped the protests grow, but the absence of leaders and a clear course of action may also prove to be the movement’s undoing. Protesters, and those who sympathize with them but aren’t necessarily out on the streets, don’t know whether they should be boycotting banks, lobbying for job-training programs, writing to their congressman about ending foreclosures or student-loan debt, or pushing for a higher minimum wage.

How long can a protest last without specific goals? We may find out fairly soon:

“Frustration without an outlet tends to peter out at a certain point,” Copic says.

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On the other hand, this movement may prove to be so huge, all-encompassing, and revolutionary—tapping into frustrations felt by the vast majority that’s been simmering for years—that the usual rules about branding and marketing taught in business schools just don’t apply.

As one protester told the Wall Street Journal, the movement’s strength is based on the fact that its goals aren’t clearly defined:

“We are not going to make demands. We are not going to become a political party,” said Sonia Silbert, a longtime political activist who was at the Occupy DC encampment a few blocks from the White House Sunday. “The second we start making demands, we start splintering, and we are no longer the 99%.”

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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