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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Precisely **Because** of Its "Muddled Message," OWS = Valuable Brand

According to USA Today, 56% of Americans “neither support or oppose” OWS because “they still don’t know enough about its goals.”

 

Technically, as a brand OWS should fail. It’s got a negative, messy, incoherent message; it’s socially engineered; and its “ambassadors” violate some basic American values, not to mention the law.

 

Yet OWS is valuable and destined to make a difference anyway. Because it’s got all four of the requirements for success: 1) awareness 2) esteem (among a very specific target audience) 3) differentiation and 4) relevance (methodology: Young & Rubicam’s Brand Asset Valuator).

 

Esteem and relevance are where OWS go off the charts for Generation Y: This is their Woodstock. Remember: This is the generation told that they deserved everything, if only they worked hard enough and followed the rules. That believed in “hope” and “change.” And that now finds itself royally cheated out of everything they worked for.

 

Generation Y isn’t being drafted into war. But they are furious anyway. Because the “brand promise” they bought into – that they were inherently deserving winners, and that America would reward them amply for trying their best – now looks to them like a big, fat lie. And somebody is going to pay.

 

Look at 28-year-old Steve Ferdman, who “occupied” the cover of yesterday’s New York Times business section. Just a few months ago, he dined over “expensive oysters and dark rum cocktails” with his parents to celebrate being hired by Credit Suisse. After six months, consulting, no benefits.

 

One week later he was laid off. For the second time. By the same firm.

 

To Ferdman, it felt like a physical blow: “I did everything right. I came into work every day, I put in long hours, and I still got punched in the face.”

 

The Times notes that younger workers have been disproportionately affected by the investment community’s financial woes. There has been a 25% decline in the number of 20-34-year-olds employed by investment banks and brokerage firms over the past 3 years (110,000 jobs) versus 17% across the board.

 

Waiting for things to get better isn’t going to work – and it is likely that these young adults know it. One recruiter stated: “A lot of the positions that are being cut right now aren’t coming back.” (Kevin Roose, “A Blow to Pinstripe Aspirations,” The New York Times, 11/22/11)

 

Adding insult to injury is the sense of entitlement of this generation. The price they paid for a lifetime of being controlled and coached was an endless series of coochie-coos and congratulations and certificates. Their “Tiger Moms” trained them to win and taught them they were “worth it.” As a result, Gen Y entered the workplace expecting a serious amount of recognition and reward where other generations were simply grateful to have a paycheck.

 

One article posted by CNN, “Generation Y: Too Demanding at Work?” sums up the generation gap at work: “Employers don’t understand why twentysomethings straight out of college expect a high salary and lots of vacation time.”

 

Employers’ surprise and dismay at Gen Y work attitudes is founded not in snobbery but rather the expressed expectations of the group themselves: They expect “more benefits and other perks than their older counterparts.....better pay, a flexible work schedule and company-provided Blackberrys and cell phones.” (Anthony Balderrama for CNN Living, 12/27/07)

 

In many ways, Gen Yers are similar to Baby Boomers. Both generations feel deserving and yet both are expansive and generous in their sense that everyone else is entitled too. Both are team-oriented and idealistic. Both gravitate toward politically correct and socially “progressive” theory and ideology that sounds good in the abstract, but that is difficult to explain in its particulars.

 

In any case, the Gen Yers are out of graduate school now, and they’ve kept their noses clean, and now they have zero to show for it. Worse, many of the have to live with their parents (!) From that vantage point, living in Zuccotti park with all their friends has a certain romantic feel to it.

 

As far as the message being muddled, that may in the end turn out to be OWS’ biggest rallying point. By defying any sort of pigeonhole, OWS is open to anyone who has an axe to grind. And if I were a young person who’d spent the last twenty years of my life cramming for exams, I’d be pretty inclined to demonstrate if the best career prospect I had going was a barista job at Starbucks. If I were lucky.

 

OWS is going to succeed, because the brand promise of hope and change has left young people deeply disappointed. When you are bred to be a prince (or princess), and then live the life of a figurative serf, you’ve already gone from one extreme to another.

 

In short, OWS gives voice to the fury of a generation. And that is why whoever can own it, and lead it, is going to have a very powerful social tool in their hands. Not to mention a brand.

 

May God have mercy on all of us as we face the difficult challenges of our time. To Gen Y and all of us - have a good day, and good luck.