WON’T GET FOOLED AGAIN?

“Who’s afraid of Twitter?” asks an anti-Mubarak sign on a best-of-protest website, “Egypt you inspire us all” says another. Social and political change is in motion. Novel political banner ideas are evaluated online as if they were new ads or brand catchphrases.

Brands repay the compliment. A model waves something like a burning draft card. This is John Frieda’s ‘Anti-Frizz Revolution’. The UK Co-op’s website bids “Join the Revolution”, with social enterprise-style community projects and a retail offer ranging from ethical fish and fair trade chocolate to funerals. Backed by a history, since 1844, of “everyday people working together to build a business that would change the world”.

After past no-logo marches and protests against capitalism and bankers, public services cuts and increased educational fees in UK are contributing to a renewed culture of protest and dissent. Will media, from the BBC to Sky and News International, regard protest by a new ‘lost generation’ at home as favourably as they have protest in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya? How will these glimpses of activist or revolutionary codes in brand communications, echoing daring ads put out by the likes of Fuji Film and Benetton in the 90s, develop this time around?

The World in 2011, The Economist’s look ahead for this year, predicted no serious disruption in Egypt or Libya (“Qaaddafi has held power for 40 years and will certainly complete 41 … he has removed all significant threats to his rule”). The prospects for UK, meanwhile, looked more problematic: “Deep austerity, the price for bank rescues and fiscal stimulus, will raise social tensions…” (but “a national sense of inevitability means most will grin and bear it”).

Portugal’s entry for the Eurovision Song Context this year is ‘A luta é alegria’ (The struggle is joy) which won on the popular telephone vote after being unanimously rejected by the TV expert panel. Performed by Homens de la Luta (People of the Struggle) this invokes for today the renowned Summer of ’68. There are clearly alternatives around to grinning and bearing it.

Semioticians have been busy in recent years helping brands engage with emerging codes beyond the traditional concerns of marketers and corporations: social responsibility, fair trade, sustainability, the impact of severe financial crisis, co-creation and the power of social networks, cuts and reduced social mobility. Inspired by this experience we await with great interest the summer of 2011.