Some marketing advice for the Occupy movement

15 Nov

I walk through Centennial Square in Victoria everyday and consider the plight of the Occupy Victoria movement, now in its third month.

Initial curiosity on the part of the public converted some to supporters, others to respectful empathizers and others still to contemptuous pessimists and critics.

Gozilla plans to attack Tokyo

As the movement loses its momentum and heads towards an inexorable conclusion with the law (Occupy Wall Street was cleared out in the early hours today), I wonder how much has been lost through the lack of a good strategic plan going in.

Think about the current Occupy movement as a nascent brand attempting to get its message – or selling proposition – across to its audience:


They are targeting their message at big business, at the banks, at multinationals, at governments. But the real audience is us, the general public. What is most valuable to any new product is public advocacy. Fans and followers.

Their current tactic of entrenchment at all costs is starting to turn off their new followers and create even stronger antipathy from their critics.

Rather than do some quick market research to determine where their brand is losing traction and why, Occupy has decided to press on, audience be damned. This drags down the positive sentiment they have created over the course of their campaign.

The danger for the brand is that the audience will be less likely to embrace a return to the market when Occupy attempts to consolidate and build positive brand awareness next time.

They are burning through their consumer currency faster than they can raise it.


Occupy, we have been told, is not a protest but a process. That’s key. In other words, it is the opening act in a long-term campaign. But what do the long-term goals look like and what short-term metrics will measure the success of the tactics they’re using?

There are certainly short-term metrics they could pay attention to: Positive and negative press coverage, audience advocacy, social mentions, increase in occupiers, support of key influencers.

If they were paying attention, they would probably have noted that the campaign has peaked. The audience is starting to lose interest. Audience burnout or backlash is the very last thing this new brand needs.


Here is a critical process issue, because by not articulating specific goals, they haven’t been able to implement effective tactics.

“Occupy” is the tactic, not the goal.

But the occupation tactic seems to have its own goal: stay until they are dragged kicking and screaming out of the public areas they have taken over. In other words, carry on regardless of what the audience thinks; continue to press the message until they have lost the advocacy they worked so hard to build.

There is not much in their current plan that supports a 2012 campaign.

As a marketing guy, I believe the Occupy movement can be effective by knowing their audience, articulating clear goals, using inspired tactics to achieve them, checking metrics along the way and sticking to a timeline.

Otherwise, the movement’s up a tree.

Occupy Victoria protester in tree

(Photograph by Adrian Lam, Times Colonist)


21 Responses to “Some marketing advice for the Occupy movement”

  1. margriet aasman November 15, 2011 at 10:00 am #

    Excellent post Doug. You said it exactly right: Occupy is a tactic, not a goal. Because this involves human emotions so strongly, you lose sight of the big, common purpose of being there at all, and everything grinds to a halt… where and how in the world is it supposed to end or move to next? Unrelated, but similar, we currently have a ‘tent city’ occupying our government lot, and they are now sitting in a foot of snow. This is about shortage of affordable housing. Government has offered places to stay, but they are refusing to budge. I am not sure why… maybe they have lost sight of the ‘goal’… but same question: who should be the audience? If it is me, I am no longer sympathetic and have lost interest since they have turned down solutions that are viable here and now.

  2. Doug Brown November 15, 2011 at 10:06 am #

    Seems like the same deal Margriet. Amazing things can be accomplished when you have a goal and strategy to get there. Without them….

    There were many other areas of marketing interest for me around the Occupy movement I could have gotten into: consistency amongst the brand ambassadors (doesn’t help the cause when some incoherent Occupier is bellowing in your face as you walk by), audience/brand touchpoints, media relations…but the post was getting pretty darn long as it was. Thanks for the comment – my guess is the weather will be a persuasive element in the length of the Occupation. Especially in your case!

  3. Anonymous November 15, 2011 at 10:18 am #

    Isn’t it ironic (thanks Alanis) that in order to succeed, Occupy protesters must think like the big business they are railing against? I’m sad that they’ve been reduced in my mind to a modern-day hippy commune rather than a strong and focussed protest movement.

  4. Doug Brown November 15, 2011 at 10:36 am #

    I wouldn’t lament their position as having to think like big businesses: they simply have to think smarter Anon. Small businesses have to do that as well! The movement has gotten out of control, in terms of their brand ambassadors, their owned media (in other words, defacing the places where they are squatting doesn’t suggest the alternative to big business will be any better) and their lack of alignment to any measurable goals. I would optimistically say better luck next time but do you think there will be the public or political goodwill to allow them to occupy next time when they seem intent on being dragged out by the riot squad this time around?

  5. Amy November 15, 2011 at 12:56 pm #

    I see all of this as a huge wasted opportunity. They staged their rally, got the media’s attention and then, when the microphone was thrust into their face, they didn’t have anything articulate to say.
    You are so right that “occupy” is a tactic not a goal.

  6. Anonymous November 15, 2011 at 1:07 pm #

    Well put Doug. I don’t think it could’ve been articulated any clearer. Doug for Mayor!

  7. Doug Brown November 15, 2011 at 1:12 pm #

    > Amy, I tried not to come across in my post as a critic of the movement because many important issues are being raised for private and public debate, which is excellent. Ultimately I think the lack of leadership has created a joyous, free-4-all attitude which has attracted those societal elements that have soured the process. Imagine the impact if they had stayed for a month left and come back in the spring for another month.

    > Anonymous: Mom is that you?

  8. maureen blaseckie November 15, 2011 at 3:53 pm #

    I don’t think it is ironic at all to expect that a group attempting to bring our attention to a problem, chronic condition or injustice should put intelligent planning into their action. And my assumption is, initially, they did have a certain direction but got carried away by enthusiasm, lack of experience, naiveté followed closely with exploitation by opportunists and party animals.

    They did raise awareness and, even though the appearance is they have fallen back, as with so many steps forward, they leave the general public a little further ahead in terms of knowledge. As soon as one person asks themselves, “What is this all about?” they start down the road of finding out.

    The movement itself is not over and, hopefully, there are people like yourself, Doug, giving them counsel and direction. You may call it marketing but, really, it is a whole lot of experience suggesting they need a warm coat for the winter.

  9. Doug Brown November 15, 2011 at 4:04 pm #

    You make such good sense Mrs. B. I share your assumption that things probably went a bit sideways with their early success, and the purity of the intention was somewhat diluted by the sheer volume of private interests getting involved. Hard to control! Fanaticism needs to be grounded for a movement to become a mass movement. It will be interesting to see the group’s response. Great comment as always.

  10. Grace Campbell (@msgracecampbell) November 15, 2011 at 5:10 pm #

    I agree with much of what you say Doug, especially that there seems to be a disconnect between strategy and goals.
    The key here is triangulation. A clear, direct message, could powerfully link the movement’s goals and strategy.
    The problem is that this movement did not arise around a single message, but rather, has emerged haphazardly out of a sea of discontent.
    Unfortunately for the protesters, frustration is an easy thing to express but a harder thing to sell.

  11. Doug Brown November 15, 2011 at 7:47 pm #

    Quite true Grace. But I fear the sea of discontent will churn into a tsunami of bad PR at the tail end. It would be fascinating to sit with some of the organizers and strategize for more energizing outcomes.

  12. Doug Brown November 16, 2011 at 6:49 am #

    UPDATE: Yesterday, the original provocateurs of the Occupy movement, Canadian anti-ad group Adbusters, called for what amounts to a winter retreat for the occupiers. The comments section of their announcement is both riveting and educational.

    I believe that the aim of a people’s revolution cannot be polarization, but instead bringing people onto the same page. My post resulted in both praise and personal insults in equal measure. To me that says Occupy has polarized people and that positions are entrenched, something Occupy needs to consider and strategize against.

  13. AJ Schaerer (@VIHippieChick) November 16, 2011 at 11:12 am #

    Excellent advice Doug. As a former member of the media group part of the issue stemmed from a disagreement within the work group in terms of a clear strategy. Another reality is that the movement was unprepared to handle the initial media attention which led to many mistakes being made at a critical juncture. However the largest mistake, in my opinion, is not knowing their audience. Had they kept sight of their audience when the city served the eviction they might have seen that they, like many politicians of the past, are misusing taxpayer money in their fight to keep the occupation rather than figure out how to further the goal of keeping the movement actually moving forward.

  14. Doug Brown November 16, 2011 at 12:12 pm #

    It’s good to have an insider’s perspective on things AJ. Thanks for that. If you know someone within the Occupy Victoria group who would be open to talking with me about their goals and plans, I would love a chance to broaden my own knowledge.

    And since you didn’t pop a link to your excellent post on why you are walking away from the Occupy movement, I will include it here! Great reading:

  15. Lynne DeCew November 16, 2011 at 1:39 pm #

    Doug, how do you find time to run your agency AND be one of BC’s better journalists? Seriously, your blog is always worth a read, and your take on this topic is especially interesting – and spot on. Occupying city parks was fine as a temporary, attention-getting tactic, but once the protestors had the world’s attention, they blew it. Instead of keeping their eye on the goal (better regulation of big business) they’ve become obsessed with tents and “sacred” burn barrels. It manages to be both annoying and sad, and like most people, I now wish they would just go away .

  16. Doug Brown November 16, 2011 at 2:51 pm #

    Well thank you very much Lynne, I’m at a loss for words… temporarily!

    I look at almost everything through a would-that-make-a-good-blog-post? lens. The Occupy movement is fascinating and so here we are.

    I think you are the perfect target market for this group and if they can persuade you with their message, then they will have taken a critical step towards building a redoubtable power base. But they lost you instead. Marketing wonks can’t help looking at this and wondering where and why and how they might draw you in next time. Many thanks for taking the time to comment.

  17. steve November 18, 2011 at 2:04 am #

    Some good points by all. I believe this movement, evolution, outrage, frustration, action, product…any of the myriad of “labels”…is unstoppable, gaining momentum, fearless, evolutionary, and part of our global advancement into a future that will bring much change. There are infinite faces, reasons, motives and humans. Part of the pure beauty in this, for me, is that it is dynamic, unpredictable, leaderless, and powerful. It is very difficult for alot of people to comprehend and relate to because it is not following the rules. The rules of our fake democracy, our disgraceful legal system, our capitalist society, our economy, our business models, our systems…It is much, much more than it appears. For it begs for deeper questions and meaning into every single querying person’s choices, comforts, lifestyle, employment, values and opinions. I see the point on a failure to “market”, or have a strategic plan. However, I think this hits the mark perfectly.
    This is not a business, an event, a campaign.
    This is.
    I think those who have not already, must take a step back and realize just what this is. Many things. And if you are undecided, confused, against, frustrated, angry, jealous, or holding out…well no worries because this is only the beginning. You can join in any time by supporting in many ways, or miss the boat and be left to your own devices and survival tactics as the world moves through this extremely intriguing phase. Another thing to keep in mind, is we…in western culture/north america/victoria are in a bubble that is not representative of the world. We live off the backs of the world community. For those of us who have had the fortune of growing up here, it is time to live a little and witness what the rest of the world deals with daily and historically on a much harsher level than this.
    And the argument that our taxpayer money is being wasted in housing and policing the occupiers is completely ignorant, bogus and unwarranted. There are countless examples of wasted tax spending that degrades, corrupts, and kills our communities and supposedly democratic societies. To name a few, public servant salaries, corrupt infrastructure projects, reports/inquiries, and fucking christmas lights.
    At least taxpayer money is finally supporting true democracy.

  18. Doug Brown November 18, 2011 at 5:50 am #

    Steve, I’m going to just shut up and let your comment stand as it is, with no attempt to dissect it. In my opinion, this is an eloquent expression of the Occupy movement, one we haven’t yet had in this forum, and I sincerely thank you for taking the time to make it on the Copeland blog.

  19. Anonymous November 22, 2011 at 12:22 am #

    Well thank you Doug. It felt really good to finally write some of my thoughts on this movement and try to express some of how I am viewing it. I do not remember how exactly I drifted into your blog, off of some other reading and researching of the Victoria Occupy I think. I thank you for providing this thread of thoughts between us all, and being one of the sparks of change. See u in the square!

  20. Anonymous November 22, 2011 at 12:24 am #

    oops, meant to put my name.
    anonymous Steve!

  21. Doug Brown November 22, 2011 at 7:27 am #

    Steve there has to be an attitude of respect if anything is going to be achieved, even if it’s simply shining a light in dark areas. I worry about the polarization of positions around the Occupy movement. But how does a leaderless organization built around dozens of social issues keep everyone on the same page to mitigate the public backlash? Getting back to the theme of the post, I think it’s like nurturing a new brand: if you don’t have some control over the expression of the message, it fragments into hundreds of personal grievances.

    But that’s just the way my marketing mind works. Thanks for the follow-up comment Steve!

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