Fantasy Brief - marketing the Carnival Against Capitalism

The nature of advertising is rather at odds with the free-thinking radicals who create it - many of whom even wear beards. What a chance, then, to clear the conscience and plot capitalism's downfall.

Fantasy Brief - marketing the Carnival Against Capitalism

Earlier this year, Occupy London organisers were quoted in Private Eye saying that June's Carnival Against Capitalism was a bust. The event was the most poorly attended protest one organiser had ever been to and it showed, he said, that the concept of counter-mobilisation was past it. The public's malaise combined with the police force's disruptive tactics had killed the movement.

In the same article, one bystander witnessing another protest asked: "Who are they speaking to? Not me. Protesting is like advertising. They need to research their audience and then market it to them."

Ironies aside, the guy had a point. Could marketing strategy, planning and commercial creativity rescue a form of protest that was on its knees? Campaign asked sharp industry minds to address a brief to hold a more successful Carnival Against Capitalism.

It’s a tough brief. But it might just be that the people who have been closest to capitalism have the right tools to help smash it. And it must, at the very least, be good for their souls.

Martin Smith, head of planning; Colin Lamberton, executive creative director, Arnold KLP

So you want to stop capitalist greed and have a big party?

Sounds great, count me in.

Sorry, what was that? You also want to close all prisons, abolish the state and "liberate" personal property? Hmm… not too sure about that one. I’ve only just bought a flat-screen TV and I’ve got my eye on a new Volvo.

And you want me to bash things up and get "kettled" by the police? Sounds a bit strong – a cappuccino and a spot of low-impact pilates is more my thing. Can I just watch the TV highlights instead?

Any successful cause needs a large, willing audience and it’s easy to see why Carnival Against Capitalism doesn’t have one.

But wait a minute: stop capitalist greed and have a big party – what’s not to like? Surely that deserves the support of the whole country?

So let’s think the unthinkable and make it appeal to the Great British middle class: the Boden-wearers, school-runners and property-ladder-climbers. The banker-bashers and Fred-The-Shred despairers. Mr and Mrs Outraged of Tunbridge Wells who have well and truly had it with people taking liberties.

Pardon their French, but it’s taking the piss.

So what if we made this our cathartic crusade: A Carnival Against People Taking The Piss.

In place of Carnival Against Capitalism, we would create a protest for the silent yet seething majority. An entirely non-violent campaign intended not to name and shame but to curb the greedy and harmful excesses of capitalism in our society and have a laugh in the process.

As Billy Bragg might have said: we don’t want to change the world, we’re not looking for a new England, we just want people to do the right thing and STOP TAKING THE PISS.

We would create a movement where victims of piss-taking big and small could have their say…

…in social media, pulling dubious behaviour together with #stoptakingthepiss.

…with a million-strong petition, activating legislation requiring piss-taking to be debated in Parliament.

…with clothing and merchandise that call out piss-taking, wherever it may be.

…by sending piss-takers samples. Or at least something that looks like a sample.

All this would culminate in a summer festival, where culprits are harangued by the very people we will have mobilised, irresistibly titled: Stop Taking The Piss In The Park.

James Appleby, planner, Grey London

Sometimes it is necessary to turn a brief on its head, particularly if it seems that the narrow marketing challenge won’t solve the larger problem. This is one of those times, because a Carnival Against Capitalism would always have failed, even if the police hadn’t crashed the party.

The problem with protest marches is that they’re functionally pointless, even when well-attended and with mainstream support. The largest of recent memory were those opposing the war in Iraq, protesting the fox-hunting ban and resisting tuition fees. All managed very decent turnouts and got heavy media coverage, but each was of absolutely no consequence.

Marches fail because they’re reactive. By the time an issue is sufficiently famous enough for people to care, it’s already too late.

Movements are successful when they are proactive; witness the recent surge supporting marriage equality and the regrettable success of the pro-life movement in the US. Carnival Against Capitalism has an obvious problem: it is defined entirely by what it is against, meaning it apparently stands for nothing.

The focus ought not to be on bashing bankers but on creating a viable alternative for us to believe in.

The process must not alarm people (so messages like "What if we smash the G8" are out) but, instead, make them feel as though they’re already onside.

There are already many trusted brands that reject pure-breed capitalism and benefit greatly from it.

These are employee- and customer-owned companies such as John Lewis, Nationwide, NFU Mutual and The Co-operative.

Ultimately, though, rather than engaging in angry onanism, the organisers of Carnival Against Capitalism should adopt the "Long" thinking we champion at Grey and aim to build something that lasts. Something with tinder, which sparks discussion and ultimately fuels behaviour change.

They should lead by example and compete with private capital in a few key areas, proving they have a system that works. The recent and admirable (if, as it panned out, ill-considered) proposal by the Archbishop of Canterbury that the Church of England set up a credit union to take on Wonga.com is an example of this spirit.

Admittedly, unlike a big riot party, this approach would require hard work from a lot of people for little immediate reward; but, on the other hand, it would actually make a lasting difference.

Gavin May, group strategy director, Crispin Porter & Bogusky

It was only following the peasant revolts of the 14th century that "peasant" became the pejorative it is today. Until then, it was a word more associated with respect, pride and, above all, piety, but repeated defeat and some rather antisocial behaviour on their part soon put paid to that.

Similarly today, "protestor" carries with it not the noble sense of the righteously indignant, standing up against the tyranny of the rich and entitled, but an image of some behooded youth in a V For Vendetta mask and plugs in his ears launching a scaffolding pole through the window of the nearest Benugo.

What to do?

Well, as any peasant (or advertising practitioner) will tell you, presentation trumps content every time; people are won over not by what you stand for but by the cut of your jib and the flourish of your delivery.

So, as Carnival Against Capitalism considers how it might rally more people to the cause, perhaps it’s time to think less about the power and persuasiveness of the message and more about the presentation and propriety of the mouthpiece.  

Who could be this new face of "protest"? Who could lead all of us: Generation Z, Daily Mail readers and your mum alike to a new dawn in which, together, we cast off the yoke of oppressive economic orthodoxy and embrace… embrace… umm… the other option! You know the one.

The problem is: humans are just too divisive. For some, Justin Bieber fits the bill. For others, Benedict Cumberbatch is the perfect choice. If it were my mum, she’d want Julio Iglesias leading the line.

No, the answer, like it so often is when you have exhausted all other options and have got a deadline looming, is not humans at all but animals. Think about it: first, we’re a nation of animal-lovers. Second, proven ROI – puppies, gorillas, ponies. Third, the clue’s in the name – it’s a carnival and, as PT Barnum would attest, you can’t have a carnival without animals.

Bipeds with opposable thumbs can march with placards in the traditional way. Anything with a big flank gets a slogan daubed on its side. Dolphins would probably handle interviews – they’re very media-friendly.

For PR value, we can add a few more exotic alternatives: a pangolin here, a couple of bonobos there, a whole army of honey badgers.

Can you imagine the police trying to kettle a honey badger? Exactly.

Allan Blair, head of social, Tribal DDB

How do you create a successful Carnival Against Capitalism? Here are four simple things I would suggest.

Make it personal: Give people a reason to care about it. Most people don’t understand or care about political movements, but they do care about rising taxes, greedy corporations and inequality in society.

Give them a reason to get involved that relates to the stuff going on in their lives. Change the name.

Stop talking about abstract sociopolitical concepts such as capitalism. Call it the Jubilee Of Justice and create a positive movement that attracts support from across the spectrum.

Make it fun: Give people an incentive to turn up. Turn it into a festival that mixes music, speeches and positive action. If people are having fun, they are more likely to listen to what you have to say.  

Ask for support: Give people a simple way to get involved. Occupying a private company’s shop is perhaps a little aggressive for most people, but the Stop The War movement showed that the public are more than happy to take direct action against issues they feel strongly about. What can everyone do to show their support for the Occupy movement? A march for equality? An anti-corporation band? Dance for democracy?

Show people getting involved: Demonstrate that taking direct action makes a difference. People don’t want to be different or think they are wasting their time so, by showing those like them getting involved and their action making a difference, it gives social proof that taking part is a valuable and worthwhile activity.