I’ve been hearing and reading about people complaining about the lack of mainstream news media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street protests. Some have postulated that this is due to the protest’s lack of a singular cohesive message or demand that’s easily digestible for the press. Others have chalked it up the press’s inherent institutional bias out of self interest to not report the protests. There’s some truth in all this, but one truism we’ve seen throughout modern history is the impact and power on a movement of a single photograph to open the eyes of the masses. As a marketer, I can’t help but think the organizers of Occupy Wall Street need to apply the old adage “dress for the job you want, and not the job you have,” or in this case “dress for the media coverage you want, and not the one you have.” Most people I’ve seen at Occupy Wall Street are dressed no differently than you and me, but of course the journalists and their editors covering this event will gravitate towards the one individual dressed like the part that neatly fits their normative “plug-and-play” framework of what a protester “looks like” for their Mad Libs-style reports that gets piped into the average American household. Occupy Wall Street needs to hack this predictability of the media. For instance, look at the photo above taken by Spencer Platt for Getty Images and reprinted in The Alantic Monthly’s photo round-up of the Wall Street demonstrations: Imagine how much more powerful as a counter-narrative this photo would be if all the protesters were dressed like the man in the simple black suit. Such a scene would be irresistible for photographers. They’d be lured to it like the way The Sartorialist is to three-layered outfits and rolled cuffs. A sea of people dressed as if they were on their way to a job interview would be doubly impactful: One, as a strong visual reminder that they’re protesting economic inequality, and second, it would also make it much more difficult for the mainstream media to generalize a movement by isolating their focus on a handful of stereotypical demonstrators, which makes it that much easier to dismiss as a fringe tantrum by a bunch of hippies. I strongly suspect that passive viewers would relate more to someone dressed like they’re on their way to a job fair than someone wearing a Guy Fawkes mask. The former conveys a broken contract with the working and middle class due to systemic failures of our government and corporate institutions, while the latter reminds us of Halloween and a mediocre adaptation of a (pretty awesome) graphic novel.
Occupy Wall Street needs to realize that it’s not about the idea, but the execution of the idea that will get them the media coverage they seek. They need to replace the masks and the top 10 selling shirts on Threadless, and instead co-opt the uniforms of the power elite. In the words of Barney Stinson, “Suit up!”