Movement Marketing is changing the advertising universe. Though there may be any number of reasons why people gravitate toward marketing movements, if you’re looking for one central driving force, think in terms of this word: restlessness. The derivation of this idea starts with the noted sociologist and social movement expert Neil Smelser, who theorized that social movements (and Smelser was really talking about Movements with a capital M, the kind that involve freedom, justice, fairness and the like) come about because of a combination of factors starting with social strain. In the most extreme cases, the strain Smelser was talking about could take the form of oppression, which, in turn, could spark revolutionary movements and uprisings.
But the more modest movements that are happening all around us, and that are the focus of my upcoming book about movement marketing, coming out of StrawberryFrog, are more often a response to something slightly less severe than strain. We’re talking more about a sense of vague dissatisfaction or restlessness people may have with some aspect of the culture—there’s something happening around them they’re not quite content with and they be interested in helping to change it (even if they’re not entirely sure how). Going back to Smelser’s social movement scenario, as he sees it, the social strain evokes a response in people that becomes a shared belief (“things must change!”) And at that point, the movement begins to self-organize and gain momentum.
Regardless of whether they’re reacting to large social strains or small stirrings of restlessness, this original group of people who are the first to respond usually form the core of the movement—they are what Smelser (and lots of us) call the “true believers.” The core fans…the provocateurs. They will tend to shape the group’s identity and its early agenda and create an impact that is felt by a wider community. They may even develop a distinct language for the movement—which can be expressed in neologistic or re-purposed words, powerful symbols, code, distinctive attire. These semiotics can help separate insiders from outsiders, fostering a community bond. Most important, the true believers will serve as the evangelists of the movement, helping to spread the word and attract others.
For a real time example of this check out Nicholas D Kristof’s Advice for the Wall Street Protesters Movement.