Dec. 19, 2011
BOSTON — The Occupy Movement in Boston and elsewhere has taken a beating in the press. While it is credited with changing the nation’s obsession from debts and deficits to income inequality, the protesters — for months camped out in tents downtown — have found their image in desperate need of repair. For a fix, they might look to a perhaps unlikely source of knowledge: the advertising industry.
While many reports have been straightforward, a good number of stories on the Occupy Movement have been informed by conservative ideology. On Fox News and on Glenn Beck’s show, the descriptions of protesters range from “lazy hippies” to “dangerous criminals.” They are referred to as socialists, atheists, and un-American.
Though replete with cultural stereotypes, exaggerations and outright falsehoods, the negative images have stuck in the minds of a good number of people. At a downtown Boston bus stop, one government employee who gave his name only as Bill said he despised the Occupy protesters as “people who don’t want to work.” Asked for his main source of news, he replied, “Nationally, I listen to some radio. I’ll listen to Glenn Beck a lot, but that’s about it.”
So when your image is sullied, your fundraising is sinking fast and a poll shows even a majority of “Millennials” have a low opinion of your movement… you might consider turning to that paragon of cultural excess and Madison Avenue self-absorption: Don Draper.
In the imaginary world of “Mad Men,” there is no product that Draper cannot sell, no image he cannot fix; perhaps even that of the Occupy Movement under assault from its detractors. Just think of this sample of his singular advice: “There is the rare occasion when the public can be engaged beyond flash, if they have a sentimental bond with the product.”
From dirty hippies to military metaphors
Roger Baldacci is a real-life ad man, the executive creative director at Arnold Worldwide in Boston. When you walk into Baldacci’s 22nd-floor office, the first things you notice are the stunning view of the city and the nearly three dozen awards sitting on his desk, including several Clio global advertising statues.
“I was going to offer you a martini or something,” Baldacci joked.
Putting himself in Draper’s shoes, how would this veteran ad exec spruce up the battered image of Occupy protesters?
“I think Don Draper would do what I would do, which is to reframe the argument,” said Baldacci. “Right now the Occupy folks they look like squatters and they’re kind of unkempt and dirty. I would turn that around and I would make them the new freedom fighters in the war against greed.”
Baldacci continued spinning out his pitch. “I would use military terms. We’re all in love with the military these days.” Instead of calling the occupation sites “camps,” Baldacci would call them… “‘forward operating bases.’ FOBS. And I would enlist members of the military, who are also part of that 99 percent, in full gear.”
That’s just one element of his Occupy re-imaging strategy. Here’s another: “I would take it to the perpetrators. I would take the fight to the CEOs, the richest CEOs in America.”
Think about it: Why occupy sites in urban centers when you can crash the CEOs’ parties? “What I might do is go a little Michael Moore on them. I might go to them and talk to them and get them on camera,” Baldacci said. “Go to the gated, tony communities where they live and let them see the 99 percent on their doorstep.”
They need a hero
“Well, if I was Don Draper I would look for a hero or heroes to represent it. It’s definitely lacking that feeling of this is someone I can relate to… you know, I get this person and want to be with them.” she said. That person would symbolize what the movement was all about.
Perhaps she means people like Ray Lewis, a retired Philadelphia police captain who was arrested in Zuccotti Park in his uniform; or perhaps an Iraq war veteran, like Jason Mazoula, a self-effacing infantryman who served in Baghdad and later joined Occupy Boston. In November, he told WGBH News, “I’m not here to improve my own lot. Over 30 percent or 35 percent of the homeless population are veterans and that’s not a coincidence.”
And once the movement finds its hero, what would Don Draper do with him or her? Kagan said: Put him on TV. But on television, the movement can control neither the image nor the message. So Kagan suggested making better use of an outlet Draper didn't have... YouTube, which is now the second most popular search engine in the world.
If the Occupy movement went that route, Kagan said, “I think making it sexy and visually interesting would still need to happen for that to be viable. But if we can show heroes — if we can show stories of what the 99 percent is doing to change the world, to improve opportunities to grow the economy — then you’ve got something interesting to show on video.”
Behind the visuals, the strategy
And that would require a unified strategy; something that’s missing from the Occupy Movement.
That’s where the advice of Tom O’Neill comes in. He’s the oldest son of former Speaker of the House “Tip” O’Neill and the president of a political strategy firm, O’Neill and Associates.
First of all, he said, no more encampments (or FOBs). “Take the success that you’ve had in occupying all these spaces across America and declare the victory,” he said. “You’ve made your point.”
Instead, since it’s a presidential election year, they should focus on getting the “99 percent” issue into the political conversation.
The goal, O’Neill said, is to be influential enough “so that the average man or woman really falls back and says ‘You know, they are at least talking to the issues that’s plaguing America; they’re at least talking about how we’re going to educate the next generation of our children; they’re at least talking about the mounting homeless in America’s streets; they’re at least talking about health care costs and what they intend to do about it.’”
Similar provocations were taking place in the 1960s in both the real world and in the imaginary world of “Mad Men.” How would Don Draper advise activists trying to end the disparities between the haves and the have-nots? It’s the same advice:
“There is the rare occasion when the public can be engaged beyond flash, if they have a sentimental bond with the product.”
Advertisers, marketers and strategists all agree with the basic premise: If the Occupy Movement in Boston and elsewhere can be made more sympathetic to the American public by highlighting its heroes and heroines and by humanizing the protesters, than its core message will become louder than the noise from its detractors.
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