Success and Failure

Published June 3, 2015 by Mayrbear's Lair

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Summer Break Edition

(Originally Posted Feb 2013)

success or failure

Success and Failure

There are many factors involved to discern the causes of success and failure in social movements and the efforts required for it to become a widely appealing endeavor that wields significant impact on social change.  Traditionally, movements, particularly the progressive type, have sought to redress social problems such as barriers to status, race and gender equality, as well as democratic practices, economic advancement and social justice.  According to research by Davis and McAdam (2005), theorists generally agree that social movements, if they are meant to have substantial effect and enjoy longevity, require (a) organization, (b) effective leadership, (c) administrative structure, (d) incentives for recruitment, and (e) a means to secure support and access to resources (Davis & McAdam, 2005).

The gathering of young academics in the mid-1960s began to produce more involved organizational and political debates to explain social unrest, transmuting earlier focus on collective behavior to that of collective action.  From this mindset, forward momentum and energy began to take shape in the form of social movements and social movement organizations, like that of Planned Parenthood and The Environment Protection Agency. Other movements, like the Disability Rights Movement, created organizations that have become stable enterprises that secure equal rights and opportunities for persons with disabilities that have minimum impact on social change.


Another social movement in Europe began to organize in 1997, that called to support worker rights as the European Commission moved toward cuts in social spending. European activists continued their efforts and moved it to the realms of a continental scale. The formation of Jubilee 2000, a global network centered in Europe, campaigned for the eradication of Third World debt.  According to organizers, after only four years of campaigning, they produced successful campaigns of various influence, in 68 countries. The campaigns were autonomous, but shared common goals, information and symbols which gave them an abundant sense of solidarity.  Their ability to communicate, co-ordinate, and cooperate was achieved with the aid of the internet (Tilly, 2004).

Most experts agree that commonalities of social movements that succeed share some of the following group traits from participants:

  1. Worthiness – This also includes the demeanor and mindset of the group participants.
  2. Unity – The organizations ability to unify marketing strategies and materials such as badges, logos, banners, chants, and mission statement.
  3. Numbers – The headcounts, signatures of petitions, communication from constituents and incumbents, their ability to fill streets and large event gatherings.
  4. Commitment – Individuals that brave the bad times, visible participation, absence of social loafing among group members, a wide range of participants that includes elders and physically challenged individuals, subscriptions, varying degrees of sacrifice and last but not least, resistance to repression.

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The media also plays a magnanimous role in the success or failure of social movements. Media coverage of an event can shape public opinion in presidential campaigns, military actions and outbursts of mass protest, to name a few examples. Edward Morgan (2010) postulates that media-saturated bombardment for anniversaries of iconic events, such as presidential inaugurations (and assassinations), to riots at Kent State, offer little more than an endless stream of distracting imagery that has more to do with today’s politics and economics than the reality of yesterday’s social movements (Morgan, 2010). The media’s in-depth coverage provokes deep emotion and passions (both positive and negative) that continue to shape and effect consumer driven capitalism and neo-liberal politics, rather than the social movements themselves.

Morgan points to three fundamental issues with respect to media coverage influence on social movements that include (a) the distortion of historic events by the removal of significant evaluation in the conditions that generate democratic activism, which can reduce the potency of social movements that involve millions of individuals to a few iconic leaders or images; (b) media distortion that can undermine the abilities of a democratic system; and (c) the failure to address the elephant in the room – the systemic characteristics of the elite that contribute in a significant manner to the social ills in which the US and the rest of the globe struggle with (Morgan, 2010).


Emblems and images for social movement organizations also play an important role in branding and establishing solidarity. This can be witnessed by the Disability Rights movement that initialized and established unified motifs to identify facilities that provide amenities like designated parking areas, wheel chair ramps and restrooms that accommodate the needs of individuals with disabilities. Their symbols and emblems have become a modern staple in contemporary living that we have all come to accept and embrace. Another example of immediate recognition in their emblems and advertisements can be witnessed by the marketing and promotional material derived from organizations that stand up for animal rights like PETA.


The examples sited here, merely offer a few explanations that can lead to the success or failure of social movement organizations and the strategies employed that continue to aid in their efforts to maintain a strong presence.  These components include the implementation of devices like logos and other symbols identified with their brand. In conclusion, the continued efforts and marketing campaigns organized in social movements serve as reminders of these institutions success, longevity, and the enormous efforts implemented that continue to bring awareness to their causes in an effort to effect positive social change.


“No pessimist ever discovered the secret of the stars or sailed an uncharted land, or opened a new doorway from the human spirit.” – Helen Keller


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Davis, G., & McAdam, D. (2005). Social Movements and Organization Theory. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Morgan, E. (2010). What really happened to the 1960s: How mass media culture failed American democracy. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas.

Tilly, C. (2004). Social Movements: 1768-2004. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, LLC.

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