Branding the primal movement

There are many political and social movements on the planet. They embrace themes of apartheid, ecology, global warming, capital punishment, music and theater, disease, animal rights, human rights, and yellow-legged frogs.

Some social and political causes bubble up from the froth of daily news, some attract our attention for the obligatory nanosecond (or as long as the person stands at our front door) then disappear like a popping cartoon bubble. The causes and efforts and efforts around the globe number in the thousands, and are as various as the people and communities and religions and ideologies that support them.

However, the causes and efforts that stick, those that resonate and gain momentum, do not always do so because of their humanitarian or social content. Rather, they glide to the forefront because they have successfully gathered together the pieces of primal code that help them not only to exist, but to flourish.

Primal Branding is a construct that lets you engineer a belief system that attracts communities of people who want to believe. Primal brands contain the seven pieces of primal code: a creation story, creed, icons, ritual, sacred words, nonbelievers, and leader. (The word “brand” is an imperfect word. For purposes here, “brand” is considered to be any product, service, personality, organization, social cause, political ideology, religion, movement, or other entity searching for popular appeal.)

Look at the ideology we call democracy, American-style. In this belief system, the creation story is about founding fathers tired of taxation without representation. The creed is all about men being created equal. (There is also a parallel creed concerning freedoms.)

The icons are the American flag, the sound of The Star Spangled Banner, Mount Rushmore, The White House, Washington Monument, the Arlington Cemetery, the voting booth, Uncle Sam and more. (The longer that an ideology has been in place, the more pieces of code exist. There has simply been more time to put them into place, strengthening the belief system.) Rituals include voting, of course, as well as celebrating the 4th of July, Memorial Day, Thanksgiving, Veteran’s Day, President’s Day, raising the flag, lowering the flag to half-mast. The sacred words are E pluribus unum, freedom, democracy, and In God we trust. Leaders started with George Washington, and have included every elected President since.

We always assume that this country was brought into being through manifest destiny, or because democracy is guided by divine right which wills itself into existence. If only that were the case. American democracy is continually being tested and tweaked. Its appeal began by unifying against a common enemy, and continues today through a system of checks and balances, driven by a unifying principle. Throughout our 200-year history, our nation has been augmenting the elements within the primal code.

Other political and social movements would do well to heed the primal code.

Because the primal code is about building a belief system that attracts people who believe, it is also about creating a group of people who belong to the group that believes in the same things they do. There is no underestimating the power of this group of zealous believers. Movements like the French Revolution, Russian Revolution, Civil Rights movement, Vietnam anti-war movement, labor unions and more were driven by people who believed in the righteousness of their cause. They joined their arms together and stormed the castles of their discontent.

It could rightfully be argued that the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s might have simply found its place in history. Yet, such serendipity seems unlikely. The notion of equal rights had suffered a rise and fall over one hundred years. And while it is valid that certain personalities shaped and took charge of the movement itself, it is also true that the very notion of civil rights as a concept required a belief system to be in place.

The origin story for the Civil Right Movement begins in the deep South, stuck in a land before time, and about which much has already been written. For our purposes here, let’s assume that the movement started when Rosa Parks refused to sit in the back of the bus in Selma, Alabama. The creed or mission statement can be summed up in one word: equality. The concept of peaceful resistance and nonviolent activism is arguably another operating creed behind the Civil Rights Movement. The icons of the Civil Rights Movement are the banners and signs the demonstrators carried as they marched to Birmingham, Alabama and Washington, D.C. The photograph and news footage on the mass media of radio and television included Dr. Martin Luther King delivering his “I Have A Dream” speech. The images of demonstrators marching arm in arm down the highways of Alabama. There were less positive icons, as well. The black and white photographs of blank men hanging from trees on rural Southern roads. The news footage of snapping police dogs, jeering racists and fire hoses turned on demonstrators are all iconic images of the Civil Rights Movement.

The rituals of the Civil Rights Movement, as in the Women’s Movement and the Vietnam Antiwar Movement and movements around the world, were the marches and demonstrations, the speeches, rallies and sit-ins. The words freedom, equality, civil rights, and We shall overcome were the favored verse. The speeches by Dr. Martin Luther King, and others also became sacred words. The nonbelievers, of course, were racists. The authoritarians who held power and did want to release it. The people who believed that the color of their skin made them superior. Bigots. The leaders of the Civil Rights Movement were located in towns and cities throughout the North and South. They included Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King, President Lyndon B. Johnson, Malcom X, and their predecessors W.E.B. Dubois and Marcus Garvey. And the multitudes of organizers, demonstrators and activists from North, South and around the world.

Thousands of people in the United States—North and South, were involved in the movement for Civil Rights. Many of them continue their mission today, to ensure equal rights to Latinos, immigrants from Southeast Asia, Africa and the rights of children, the elderly, the impoverished and the underprivileged.

The pattern of primal code that was involved in the Civil Rights Movement can be mimicked for other causes of merit. The opportunity is for observers to become believers, then advocates and champions of the cause. The Civil Rights Movement, after all, imitated the nonviolent achievements of Ghandi.

The blueprint set forth in the primal code is clear. All movements begin as a narrative. Their creation story begins with someone who believes that the world has somehow missed a step and is doing it wrong. They have an alternative credo. Icons are gathered that shout the new credo. There are marches and demonstrations and other attendant rituals. In the Vietnam Antiwar Movement, they burned draft cards. In the Women’s Movement, they burned bras. In the Middle East today, they burn effigies of Uncle Sam. There are also less inflammatory rituals. The mass sit-ins, the marches, the carrying of signs and banners, the food strikes, the walk-outs, the boycotts.

There are always, of course, those who will not follow the new cause, for whatever reason. They are the nonbelievers, the pagans. The hawks who will not be doves (and vice versa), loggers who chop down the redwoods, the ardent capitalists who cannot help but hire cheap child labor. Sacred words abound. Make love, not war. We shall overcome. Save the whales. Ban the bomb. Vote for Jerry. Give peace a chance.

It is all part of a narrative, it is storytelling. When pieces of the story are missing, the story becomes less interesting, people become disinterested and turn away. When pieces of primal code are missing, they feel dissatisfied and turn away.

During the 1960s, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration seized the popular imagination with its race to the moon. Following the Apollo 11 lunar landing on July 20, 1969, however, the excitement dissipated, was rekindled briefly during the Shuttle launchings, until the 1986 Challenger explosion.

Why did the space program lose it illusory quest? After all, what is more exciting and dynamic, than space? Stephen Spielberg, Stanley Kubrick, Ridley Scott and dozens of other Hollywood directors have turned outer space into their own private theater. So what’s up with N.A.S.A.? While they’ve tried to make much of their Mars Rover, the photogenic dune buggy they’ve planted on the Red Planet, it has done little to capture the imaginations of earthlings over the age of ten. They would do well to remember that which made them successful in the first place, which was not just safe missions but the orbiting pieces of primal code.

The creation story was born in man’s quest for flight, a dream that extends beyond the Wright Brothers and into science fiction. The creed is President John F. Kennedy’s farsighted mandate to reach the moon before the Russians (and Kennedy’s vision that recognized just how much Americans love a challenge). Icons include the space capsules, the astronaut’s million-dollar suits, the rocket launch pad, the verbal 10-9-8 countdown, Houston command center and John Glenn. The sacred words during the moon race, include that same 10-9-8 countdown, and words like orbit, lunar, and of course, One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind. The nonbelievers, of course, were the Russians and their high-flying cosmonauts, malcontent politicians, and any others against the U.S. space program. The leaders were President John F. Kennedy, John Glenn, astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, “Buzz” Aldrin, Michael Collins and the essential, yet anonymous engineers at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

The failure of N.A.S.A’s ability to regenerate its appeal is not due to rocket science, but to their failure to recapture the imagination and spirit of America and the world. Something they might have done if they had looked back at their primal code.

[Primal Branding is a construct that lets you design a belief system using the seven pieces of primal code: creation story, creed, icons, rituals, sacred words, nonbelievers, and leader. Used together these seven pieces of code create a system of belief that attracts brand advocates and public appeal for products and services, personalities, political and social movements, even civic communities.]