How can a brand with no monetary value – and no marketing budget – be a huge success (and strike fear in billionaires)?

Watch as a “One Percenter” tries to convince a “Ninety-Nine Percenter” that capitalism is good.
Watch as a "One Percenter" tries to convince a "Ninety-Nine Percenter" that capitalism is good.

Branding is most often used to promote the sale of a product or service. But it can also be used to sell an idea and there is no better example than this brand: Occupy Wall Street.

Think about it. Before Occupy Wall Street, there were millions of people frustrated by the increasing gap between the rich and the poor. But they didn't know how to articulate their feelings, share them with others and, most important, there was no rallying point, no big idea.

Then some brand-savvy person cooked up the Occupy Wall Street concept. Suddenly, it became possible to focus, rightly or wrongly, all the rage on a tangible target (Wall Street) and there was a rallying point (a park near Wall Street).

But it didn't stop there. To make the brand really hot, it was necessary to compress a vastly complex problem – the distribution of income between the rich and the poor – into a simple line that anyone could understand. That line: The 99 Percenters. It refers to the fact that 1% of the population in the U.S. owns almost all the wealth and the meager leftovers are for the rest of the population – The 99 Percenters.

You also hear this slight variation on that theme: "The few have so much, the many have so little." Some nice parallelism going on there, which helps explain what that line inevitably generates applause. The best part of the 99 Percenters positioning is that, by definition, it includes just about everyone. You know it is working because many of the demonstrators proudly carry signs pronouncing that they are a 99 Percenter.

Now one thing is still missing: what do the 99 Percenters want? We marketers know that if you want something, you have to ask for it, and right now the protesters are just protesting, they are not asking for specific changes. Then again, when mobs hit the streets during the French Reign of Terror (September 1793 to July 1794) I doubt they had much on their mind other than lopping the heads off the 1 Percenters of that time (Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette).

Today's 99 Percenters are asking for the heads of the 1 Percenters, but only in a figurative way. At least for now.

Wolfgang Franke is President & Creative Director of Words at Work Advertising & Marketing, a full service communications company established in 1988. Our growing list of valued clients are found throughout our local market, Markham and the Greater Toronto area, across Canada in cities such as London, Ontario, and Edmonton, Alberta, and an expanding list of international locations ranging from The Big Apple in New York to Kanturk, Ireland.

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