The Occupy movements have this sense of déjà vu surrounding them. If you are old enough to remember political events in the nineties, “Occupy” sounds very much like “Say no to WTO”. Naomi Klein, who authored No Logo, an anti-globalization manifesto of the time, certainly thinks so in her piece in the NY Times. With the new wave of naming milestones as “D17” and “N15”, Occupy definitely remembers “N30”, the massive uprising in Seattle on November 30, 1999 that took the country by storm. Both protests saw a coming together of students, NGOs, environmentalists and the radical fringe. Both targeted large multinational companies and their ways of doing business. However today, a good eleven years later, something is different. No violence, for one, at least on the part of the protestors. Occupy is tweet-happy, using social media to keep the crowds connected. And most interestingly, there is no anger towards any one brand.
“The Battle in Seattle” had their enemies clearly defined and they violently attacked corporations they believed were “evil”. Occupy’s anger is more nebulous, generally aimed at the “rich” and “big banks”. No Logo, during the height of its influence, called for the death of brand-driven neo-colonialism and cultural hegemony. Why did Occupiers choose not to marshal their efforts against a few chosen companies? Well, quite simply, it appears that brands are no longer the enemy.
This quiet shift in people’s perception is the result of a decade-worth of growing up by big brands. If corporations are people, then brands need to be role-model citizens. In recent years, nearly 7700 corporations and businesses have adopted the 10 commandments of the UN Global Compact, agreeing to uphold basic human rights and labor laws, formulate humane trade policies, improve environmental performance and adopt stricter corporate governance. Changes, big and small, have been made in the way companies respond to social and environmental challenges and all the good work adds to the reputation of the brand. Brands, once target practice for activists, are now “campfires for people- consumers, staff, investors – to gather around”. (BCG, Is This Brand a Friend, 2009)
The importance of brands to attract attention and become a vehicle for positive change is precisely what Sustainable Brands 2012 is banking on. Perhaps the biggest confluence of brands that take sustainability seriously, SB ’12 hopes to “amplify business success surrounding innovation for sustainability, to educate business leaders throughout an organization about how they can contribute to a more sustainable brand, and to grow the market for business solutions that can help companies reduce environmental impact and increase societal impact by playing a more positive role in the lives of all their stakeholders”. In the new post-N30 world, this agenda makes perfect sense. Brands are now flagships for the responsible business community.
SB justifies the focus on brands by saying, “Brands have a unique role to play in focusing stakeholder energy and driving society towards a sustainable future”. Looking at the co-ordinated use of a balled fist symbol, “we are the 99%” slogan and continous use of hashtags, it might explain one more difference between N30 Seattle and Occupy Seattle – Occupiers understand the power of branding.
SB’12 will be held from June 4th to the 7th at Paradise Point, San Diego, CA. For registration and more information, click here.