Occupy’s marketing lesson for Labour

by Peter Goddard

Despite an unbeatable city centre location, great transport links and, eventually, welcoming neighbours, it looks like London’s newest bijou residential opportunity – the Occupy camp at St.Pauls – is about to close its doors, or more accurately tent flaps.

Although a judgement on eviction has been postponed until 22nd February, it seems that even without the attention of the judiciary, time is running out for the not so happy campers.

The Telegraph reports “a leading group member” all but admitting the disintegration of the site, quoting: “it really is tough. People always ask about the cold, but the cold is the least of it. We have people with alcohol and drug addiction issues, we have people with mental health problems and very challenging behaviour”.

Thus the media narrative about the Occupiers seems set.

The campers were idealistic, they were naïve, they were probably long-haired and smelly. Despite their best efforts, big bonuses will still be paid (in the private sector at least), business will carry on as usual and, all in all, nothing will have been changed.

From a news perspective, the story of Occupy is coming to an end, the campers ultimately undone by their own lack of organisation and inability to express their needs beyond an angry cry of rage.

In one sense, this is right. It certainly describes the facts. But let’s not forget that although the media loves an easy story arc, the real world often offers much more interesting, and useful complexity.

Before the collapse of the camp, this group of ordinary people prompted an about about-face from the Bishop of London and inspired meetings with the head of the Financial Services Authority (FSA).

The people at St Paul’s weren’t alone either, there was similar action across the nation and, indeed, the world. For a brief moment, there was something there. Something that inspired, something that was even, dare we say it, revolutionary.

For journalists, it might be an open and shut case but if you are from another part of the communications family, such as marketing, you see quite a different picture when looking at the camp outside St.Pauls.

Over the months of their existence, the Occupy movement managed to create a powerful brand, although they would likely be upset to learn this.

This brand is something that lives on beyond the disintegration of the physical campsite and will survive even the eventual departure of all the representatives.

A brand can evoke many things – a belief in reliability, an expectation of service or a sense of luxury. But in this instance, the brand is not about goods and services; it is about good old-fashioned inspiration.

The Occupy brand stimulates, provokes and emotes. It stirs dissatisfaction with the way things are, and nurtures a need for fairness. What it does not do, crucially, is make or represent a specific policy. This is the quintessential difference between a brand and an ideology.

There are several examples of these types of emotive brands that endure and show how success can still be achieved, even after the apparent facts of failure are confirmed. But for me, as a biker, the one that Occupy brings to mind is the tale of Triumph motorcycles.

In 1983, Triumph went out of business, no longer able to compete with its more successful and frankly reliable Japanese competitors. The factory closed its doors.

It seemed like the end.

But John Bloor understood that Triumph was more than just a motorcycle factory. It was an idea. A spirit of motorcycling.

Bloor bought the Triumph name and rebuilt the factory. The factory could have built bikes under any name he chose, but Bloor wanted to make Triumph bikes, because that meant something.

Likewise with Occupy. Their factory is the physical remnants of the occupation, and it too is likely to be closing its doors. The news media might focus on this aspect, but the brand remains, and it remains powerful.

Just as Bloor saw an opportunity in preserving the heritage that Triumph represented, Ed Miliband has an opportunity here.

Labour cannot simply take on the mantle of Occupy – the brand is one of outsider status, which a mainstream party simply cannot carry. However, it is possible to appropriate the language and demonstrate the attitude characteristic of the movement, aligning the party with goals that inspired such spontaneous commitment.

Occupy often spoke of the 1%, the privileged few that society seemed organised purely to benefit. This should be the language of Labour too, marking clear red water between this view of the world and Cameron’s laughable claims that we’re all in it together.

Labour needs to be in body and soul the party of the 99%. This means contesting Conservative efforts to divide and conquer by conjuring up armies of dole scroungers and other underserving poor.  And it means taking a thoughtful, measured stand on the financial services industry which is clearly in need of considered regulation.

Ed Miliband and his team have moved in this direction but what seems to be lacking is the vigour and emotion.

The heart of the Occupy brand is about challenging.  Generating the passion of the righteous fight. This is the reason most members of the Labour party decided to join, not the turgid prose of nuanced politicking. To quote Harold Wilson 41 years ago, “the Labour party is a moral crusade or it is nothing”. For too long in the declining years of government, it was nothing.

So as the tent poles clatter to the cold concrete, Labour faces a choice and an opportunity. The party can buy into the media narrative that the hippies failed once again and that this story is over. Or we can try to understand why the Occupy brand inspired and insist that the story is just beginning – that business as usual is no longer acceptable – and that something can, and will, be done.

For all those who would counsel the caution of conventional wisdom, remember John Bloor. He was laughed at when he looked at Triumph and saw the brand and not the failure.

Last year Triumph generated £345m of revenue and posted its biggest ever profits.

Peter Goddard is a sales and marketing consultant

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2 Responses to “Occupy’s marketing lesson for Labour”

  1. Frederick James says:

    “The campers were idealistic” – no, to be “idealistic” you need “an idea”. All they had was too much time and Daddy’s (no doubt, in some cases, City-bonus-derived) trust fund money on their hands.

    “London’s newest bijou residential opportunity” – unintentionally accurate. Unfortunately the proles turned up so Miles and Samantha have returned to their parents’ gated communities.

  2. swatantra says:

    Haven’t Occupy heard of blitskrieg? Itshen you move in swiftly make your point and then move out. The trouble with occupy i not its lack of ourganisation but that it outstays its welcome, rather like the Parliament Square encompment anad Brian Haws. the point is lost as people get fed up with the squalor surrounding the site, that goes for prtestors as whell as german tourists.
    Example Lewisham Council want to sell off a ‘Childrens nursery,like good Thatcherites Right to Buy Councils; Occupy have moved in swiftly saying the property should go to just one of the many thousands of families waiting to be house. In the end the Council will probably win after it goes through the legal process, but Occupy will have made its pointif moved in days rather than weeks.

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