The Marketing of Occupy Wall Street

A Marketer’s Look at Why The Movement Has Lasted…

The “Occupy” movement has legs, much like some past movements. 😉

They are filing for a trademark and there is a viral website banner. In spite of being driven by disgust toward banking fraud & giveaways to too big-to-fail banks, the movement is still being described as fringe leftist (even communism) in some mainstream media circles, but even right-leaning political bloggers support the movement. China is not a fan of the movement & has preemptively banned “occupy” related words on popular Chinese blogging tools.

Profound Pain

A lot of the economic trends are ugly & Noam Chomsky stated that “I’ve never seen anything quite like the Occupy movement in scale and character” and attributed that in part due to a sense of hopelessness that is far more significant than what appeared during the great depression:

Now there’s a sense of hopelessness, sometimes despair. This is quite new in our history. During the 1930s, working people could anticipate that the jobs would come back. Today, if you’re a worker in manufacturing, with unemployment practically at Depression levels, you know that those jobs may be gone forever if current policies persist.

The movement has its detractors, like the 53% movement, but is strong enough that banks are scrapping new petty fees for fear of backlash and the US government is hinting at the potential for some criminal proceedings against bankers.

Interesting Marketing bits of note

A Few People Can Make a Big Difference

At the very first planning meeting a couple fringe individuals (but wicked smart & well studied ones – including David Graeber, who wrote a book covering 5,000 years of debt) changed the direction of the movement entirely from what started as Marxist #fail to something far more mainstream & legitimate. And it spread:

July 2nd. That was the first actual meeting. What happened was AdBusters put out this call for these protests. We had heard there was supposed to be a general assembly on July 2nd. So I just showed up. But it was a rally, not an assembly. Some Marxist groups had set up stages and megaphones and was making speeches and were planning a march. So we said we don’t need to do this. We pulled a small group together and decided to have a real assembly. So we wandered over to another part of the area and began a meeting and people kept migrating over.

And by “couple people” above, I literally mean 2:

the people who really kicked off that first July 2nd movement, at the very beginning, were me [David Graeber] and an artist and anarchist named Georgia Sagri (she told me she actually wanted me to use her full name here), who completely freaked out the sectarian folks who were trying to coopt the event by taking the stage and calling for a real assembly – in the face of every sort of intimidation, really, while I hustled around trying to find anyone who looked like a horizontal.


99% … the name was built around the perception of openness & inclusion.

And they state that political bias is irrelevant because “your economic future has been set on fire.”

And while most of the bad guys are in the top 0.001%, the simple 99 vs 1 framing makes the concept memorable & easy to share.

Memorability is no accident, as a lot of the names associated with the movement, like Occupy Wall Street & Buy Nothing Day, come from a former ad man named Kalle Lasn, who publishes a magazine named Adbusters.

Lack of Hierarchy-based Leadership Structure

The rotating leadership provides a lack of centralization & lack of top down structure makes it very hard to fight off. You can’t attack just 1 person and win. Politicians can’t pay off someone to say a leader raped them (like the recent charges against the former head of the IMF or the head of Wikileaks) and any labels attributed to any individual don’t stick to the group.

Further, efforts to paint with broad strokes also fail because the group is quite diverse, built on a loose series of clusters. Cries that protestors should “go get a job” are also lame ducks, as most have jobs. Online exposure & emphasis on decentralization meant that shutting down the first location didn’t stop the movement. If anything, it only strengthened it.

Existing power structures are so desperate to smear the movement that they are trying to find financial supporters associated with it & smear that relationship:

“It will be vital,” the memo says, “to understand who is funding it and what their backgrounds and motives are. If we can show that they have the same cynical motivation as a political opponent it will undermine their credibility in a profound way.”

Not Giving In To Violence

Numerous police officers have used violence (running over a person, punching people in the face, pepper spraying a bunch of girls, shooting a cameraman, shooting someone in the face then throwing a flash bang at people trying to help the injured person) to try to get the protesters to fight back, but they haven’t been physically violent.

Record Everything

EVERYTHING gets recorded & immediately posted to YouTube, including the undercover cop protagonists, and the violent outsiders who are stopped by people in the real movement.

This allows people to judge reality based upon: reality! Which has led to an online meme built around casually pepper spray everything pepper spray art.

It also corroborates stories of human rights violations when officials are lying & makes it easy to see if illegal violent police behavior is a case of a bad cop or a pattern of conduct from the top down:

the 18 police action was a national, coordinated effort. This is a more serious development that one might imagine. Reader Richard Kline has pointed out that one of the de facto protections of American freedoms is that policing is local, accountable to elected officials at a level of government where voters matter.

National coordination vitiates the notion that policing is responsive to and accountable to the governed.

REAL Freedom of the Press

To say corporate media is trying to keep people mis-ininformed would be an understatement:

In 1989, Chinese students protesting in Tiananmen Square were hailed by US media as heroes standing up to tyranny. In 2011, American students protesting all across the country against financial tyranny are “lazy”, “bastards”, both, or downright criminalized.

United States corporate media could not possibly admit that repression in Tahrir Square by Egyptian riot police is exactly the same as repression in New York, Oakland, Portland or Boston by American riot police.

Having immediate access to the truth makes it much harder for the mainstream media to aggressively “spin” the facts using junk labels without undermining their own credibility (and thus influence).

This turns the concept of “freedom of the press” from an academic idealism to something that exists in reality, by undermining our current model of access-based journalism:

this is how the much-lauded “freedom of the press” myth in the US actually works. If you perform the job of an actual journalist, telling truth to power, forget about attending press conferences at the White House, Pentagon or State Department. You won’t even be admitted in the building.

No Formal “List of Demands”

The protestors did not immediately come up with a list of demands, so it is open-ended & can keep building momentum before wedge issues have a chance to tear it apart. This open-ended nature meant that politicians couldn’t spin their demands into something else & they did not allow themselves to be easily co-opted by existing political bodies like the Tea Party did. It also makes it harder to brand them as “terrorists”

“The Occupy movement has remained adamant about not drafting a list of demands because terrorists make demands, and we’re not terrorists,” said Pope, a graphic design student. “We shouldn’t have to demand a democratic process.”

Remember the shopworn criticism from The Right, and from the mainstream media? “There’s no list of demands.” Well it’s true that there’s no list of demands, because there shouldn’t have to be demands. Demands are made by terrorists; the rule of law is followed in a representative republic, and does not need to be stated as a demand as it is implied in any lawful, rational, rights-based society and government.

Control of Framing

In an attempt to counter the 99% & reframe the issue, there was a website put up devoted to the 53%  of alleged taxpayers. Sure 53% is  a clever naming convention & where they do well is humanizing the counter story by putting a name and a face to each story. However, based on using the existing framing (using “%” name they are stepping into a trap and only furthering the 99% movement).

This is a great marketing case study to watch & many sparks will fly as the upcoming election cycle heats up & economies continue to melt down. You can count on many people trying to smear the movement many different ways. Not based on truth but on power.

There is not truth, only power, and facts are for little men.

The banksters will however have a hard time justifying their “free market ideals” when they refuse to allow those same ideals to be applied to themselves. They are big on “personal responsibility” but god forbid they are held accountable for the outcomes of their own actions!

And if in a free market customers decide to move their money out of the criminal banking organizations, then those same criminal institutions have their own customers arrested!

So much for “free” markets in a police state.

Focus on the Fraud

Having guest speakers like Bill Black keeps protestors informed & points the rage in the correct direction toward the bad guys & the crimes they committed.

Wachovia laundered $378.4 billion of drug money.

JP Morgan engaged in bid-rigging that ultimately bankrupted Jefferson County, Alabama.

Over 80% of Citibank’s mortgages were defective:

“In mid-2006, I discovered that over 60 percent of these mortgages purchased and sold were defective,” Bowen testified on April 7 before the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission created by Congress. “Defective mortgages increased during 2007 to over 80 percent of production.”

The banking fraud is global:

ALBERICI: “How certain are you that UniCredit broke the law while you were there?”

JONATHAN SUGARMAN: “A hundred per cent certain and to use the Irish expression, ‘to be sure, to be sure’ that is why I brought in this London based IT company which had a very good reputation in Dublin and the result was pretty horrific because whereas the breach that I’d reported to the regulator was a breach of twenty per cent, whereas the permissible deviation was one per cent, they rang me up one evening soon after they tied into our systems, linked into our systems and said your breach is actually forty per cent”.

So those are Ireland & US for starters, but just about anywhere there is debt troubles these same folks lent a hand:

Goldman Sachs arranged swaps that effectively allowed Greece to borrow 1 billion euros without adding to its official public debt. While it arranged the swaps, Goldman also sought to buy insurance on Greek debt and engage in other trades to protect itself against the risk of a default on those swaps.

Both Citibank & Goldman were fined for misrepresenting investments, while trading against their own customers.

Then there is the whole robo-signing fiasco, where banks sent over 100,000 fraudulent foreclosure documents before the courts. While it has only recently gained news coverage in the past year, the odious behavior goes back to the ’90s.

MF Global’s recent implosion (where they stole & lost segregated client funds) has introduced additional layers of risk to the market:

It is with regret and unflinching moral certainty that I announce that Barnhardt Capital Management has ceased operations. After six years of operating as an independent introducing brokerage, and eight years of employment as a broker before that, I found myself, this morning, for the first time since I was 20 years old, watching the futures and options markets open not as a participant, but as a mere spectator.

The reason for my decision to pull the plug was excruciatingly simple: I could no longer tell my clients that their monies and positions were safe in the futures and options markets – because they are not. And this goes not just for my clients, but for every futures and options account in the United States. The entire system has been utterly destroyed by the MF Global collapse. Given this sad reality, I could not in good conscience take one more step as a commodity broker, soliciting trades that I knew were unsafe or holding funds that I knew to be in jeopardy.

The markets are so untrustworthy that traders now justify these sorts of mental gymnastics to stay in the market:

If you want to eliminate counterparty risk I say trade with a brokerage that doesn’t do its own gambling on the side (so in theory you won’t need to run crying to SIPC for your funds), then only short, ever. Want to go long? Short something that’s short. All you have to personally hold is cash.. For example short AAPL on the way down then short some “short tech” ETF on the way back up. Make sure you’ve got plenty of breathing room of course so an unexpected swing doesn’t land you a margin call.

The Department of (in)Justice?

In response to “terrorists” we have shred the constitution. The government invests in spying, account hacking, social media, astro-turfing, suggesting fibbing on your weight is a crime & all sorts of other dubious forms of surveillance.

In 2004 the FBI warned of an epidemic of mortgage fraud that would lead to a major financial catastrophe. They were promptly castrated & ignored.

What point is there in investing in hypersonic bombs & countering “extremist messages” when we ignore the financial terrorists in our back yard, doing nothing to those who bomb our economy through intentional, flagrant & malicious fraud?

How Much Capital Concentration is Legitimate?

Carlos Slim admonishes other rich folks for giving away much of their wealth. Meanwhile he owns a company which provides free cell phones to illegal immigrants in the United States & ensures your bill contains a universal service tax as another junk fee to pay for those free phones.

If you take away the ability to earn more you take away some of the incentive to work long hours and do well. However, many of the richest people have ill gotten gains that were handed to them in part by the same nanny state they complain about:

Where such “wealth” was accumulated through fraud, if you undermine the justice system then eventually capital accumulates excessively & destroys the political and legal systems. You end up creating a society where most people are debt slaves paying interest to a few ultra-rich people.

Money is a human construct. The fact that our money is now backed by nothing more than our collective future ability to “produce” relegates us to that of slaves.

Money=paper=blood hours.

Blood hours are a finite measure. Heartbeats.

That debt is accumulated for political reasons:

government and banks are stuck together like a couple of dogs screwing and we don’t know which is on top. Here, Republicans need government to finance war and Democrats need it to finance social programs. Both need it to finance both, as that is how government attempts to maintain power and influence over the people this day and time.

But there are some obvious questions that go unasked, like:

Why should the Federal Reserve bail out the banking class when they commit fraud & then tell the rest of society to “suck it up, baby…this is capitalism”? Many folks are not financially literate, but at some point relying on ignorance won’t work:

there is a deep sense that capitalism in the West has become unfair. Certain players, led by big banks, extracted huge profits during the boom, and avoided the deep losses that they deserved during the bust. Citizens no longer accept the argument that this unfortunate outcome reflects the banks’ special economic role. And why should they, given that record bailouts have not revived growth and employment?

Calls for a fairer system will not go away. If anything, they will spread and grow louder. The West has no choice but to strike a better balance – between capital and labour, between current and future generations, and between the financial sector and the real economy.

“OWS is saying that you cannot have justice so long as the bad things happen to the person who borrowed but the bankster that lent the money gets paid off in full.” – gen

Social Harms from Excessive Income Inequality

Debt that is not legally dischargeable in bankruptcy shouldn’t be legal.

Debts that can’t be paid won’t.

The question is: who gets to eat the loss?

If the banks eat the loss it solves the problem of too much debt in the system & excessive income inequality. If the bankers are made whole on their incompetence & fraud driven bad loans while taxpayers  take the hit, then debt saturation remains & income inequality grows.

High income inequality leads to a near endless set of social problems.

In a just society a lender who makes bad loans goes under.

But we don’t live in a just society!


“Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power”- Benito Mussolini

“Corporations were created to protect the rich and powerful from market discipline” – Noam Chomsky

As banking fraud has ramped up, how has the US government responded?


“My administration is the only thing between you and the pitchforks,” the president told them.

More Fraud Please.

If I had to sum up the attitude of America’s governing classes in one word, I would say: contempt.

Join the Conversation


  1. Great blog post. I’ll have to come back and watch all the videos.

    Has there been any evidence that the accusations of rape were paid off, or are you just speculating?

    Have you moved your savings out of the big banks? Do you think it would do anything if that catches on?

    Do you have a lot of optimism for this movement in general? When I heard about Congress declaring pizza a vegetable, it kind of made me think they aren’t listening at all, and will continue siding with corporations over people. If the police brutality continues I think it’s only a matter of time before there’s a riot. Violence has often followed peaceful protests that accomplished anything.


    response: In the IMF case there was indeed claims of payment, though I don’t know of any with the Wikileaks guy. The Srauss-Kahn rape victim was described with this in the Daily Mail:

    Two official sources said the unnamed woman spoke on the telephone to an imprisoned alleged drug dealer within a day of her encounter with Strauss-Kahn.

    In the conversation, which was recorded, she reportedly discussed the possible benefits of pursuing the charges against Strauss-Kahn.

    Investigators also say they learnt that the man on the other end of the phone, who is accused of possessing 400lb of marijuana, is among several people who put cash deposits amounting to more than £62,000 into the maid’s bank account over the past two years.

    I don’t have a single cent in any of the big banks…but I didn’t before the crisis hit either. My wife has some and I keep pushing her to close those accounts, but she hasn’t so far. 🙁

    Yes I do think if people took their money out aggressively in a short period of time it would eventually cause the collapse of some of the banks. Those big banks still have “mark to fraud” accounting in place right now & are only worth like 1/2 to 1/3 of their alleged book value. If their balance sheets were honest & trustworthy they would trade at over 100% of their book value.

    I am somewhat hopeful in the movement, but where it ends up is anyone’s guess. Such movements are volatile. The typical outcomes are either violence (that will be swiftly shut down) or the formation of a new political party. There won’t likely be broad-based violence increases until the free government cheese is forced to stop…if/when that happens we will fall into a depression. The only thing that will prevent a depression from being recognized is massive inflation…but if inflation goes too high it not only hurts the poor but screws the banks too.

    Frank Luntz is out trying to reshape language around OWS issues & blame the banker’s fraud on the government, however if the fraudulent bankers have bought off the government (which they have) then the corruption in governance is only a reflection of the corruption in the banks.

    iTulip is a great site for up to date economics information & does a great job of discussing the day to day fraud.

  2. Is this blog really owned and operated by Aaron Wall of SEOBook? Very interesting if it is…


    response: yes this is my site Chris, though I don’t post here very often.

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