In my last post, I lamented the fact that too many brands (and non-profits in particular) communicate in such a way that forces people to think analytically. Logic does not tell someone to become a brand evangelist. Logic does not tell someone to open his or her wallet and hand out money for nothing in return. However, emotion does … in particular self-interest.
In the consumer world, smart branding is when you can escape the urge to pontificate about as many product attributes as you can conjure, and instead highlight the emotional benefit of the total package. In other words, people don’t buy drill bits, they buy holes from which they can hang pictures of their family. People don’t buy lawn mowers, they buy a lawn that makes their egomaniacal neighbor jealous. Advertisers are extremely adept at activating consumers’ self-interest on an emotional level.
What I find fascinating about social movements is that they’re essentially a group of people acting in concert with one collective identity who, at the same time, are motivated by self-interest and are bent on expressing their individuality. They force group action by telling stories that move people on a personal level (like the story of Rokia in the previous post).
Non-profits and causes, in theory, are built on selflessness so triggering self-interest feels incongruous. However, rationally we all know that giving money is far from being a purely altruistic endeavor. People still want their name on the library and daddy still wants little Larry to get into school. Would Paul Allen have donated $1 billion if Bill Gates hadn’t done it first? Self-interest will always play a role in giving so we might as well understand how to leverage it.
The good news is that self-interest doesn’t have to imply materialism or narcissism. Social movements promise the benefit of enjoying meaningful change in one’s life or the euphoria of joining a group of like-minded people. For donors, self-interest could mean assuagement of guilt, self-actualization, transcendence, and many other things. You’re not selling the importance of fighting alcoholism – you’re selling heroism. You’re not selling the importance of reducing homelessness – you’re selling peace of mind.
One great case study on leveraging self-interest for a public cause is the “Don’t mess with Texas” anti-litter campaign created by Dan Syrek. He determined that the typical litterer in Texas was a truck-driving, rifle-wielding, beer-drinking, young male (as if there’s any other kind). Guilt, shame, or fear was clearly not going to be enough motivation. The ads he created featured Texas icons, like football player Too Tall Jones, crushing a soda can and saying “don’t mess with Texas.” It implied that real Texas men don’t litter, and anyone who does, is instantly an enemy of the state, and if you’ve ever been to a Cowboys game you’d know that this is not acceptable. Syrek was able to appeal to self-interest through identity … which is exactly how social movements work.
One last example. Consider this ad that was designed to get young people to vote.
It makes a personal appeal, and it’s certainly emotional, but where’s the appeal to self-interest? What does this have to do with the collective identity of young men and women? What’s the benefit of not silencing yourself? This ought to be spelled out.
What if the ad said something like “Are you still letting your parents make decisions for you? That’s what you’re doing if you don’t vote.” What if it was a picture of a 45-year old man in a suit and said “would you normally let this man tell you what to do everyday? That’s what you’re doing if you don’t vote.” Young people are very individualistic and rebellious, so theoretically they should care deeply about having others make decisions for them.
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