Tag Archives: cause marketing

The Biggest Winner: Social Movement Media

big-to-small1As further evidence that brands are becoming social movements, the Wall Street Journal reported this week that NBC plans to produce more programming that promotes a specific cause.

Shows like “The Biggest Loser” that espouse social causes have become the lone bright spot in NBC’s otherwise struggling portfolio. Their success is not surprising — there’s high demand for social meaning today, and we’re looking for it in our purchases, our jobs, and now our entertainment.

Our growing fascination with these shows is another indication that social causes now play an important role in the makeup of Americans’ identities. What you believe in is becoming as important as what you drive in terms of showing others who you are, and brands are now trying to foster relationships in that way.

In fact, growing their viewer base was not actually NBC’s primary motive. Instead, they hypothesized that socially-charged programming would help advertisers connect with consumers on a deeper level. Today, media that work to form an emotional bond between brand and consumer (rather than just providing a forum) command higher profit margins and have thus become the Holy Grail of ad sales.

This trend will only make brands look more like social movements, and will put an even higher premium on having intrinsic social meaning for your brand (or at least a social agenda).

This may or may not be good news for nonprofits. Certainly, the growing importance of social issues in our lives is positive, however this also illustrates the encroachment of consumer brands on the business of nonprofits. Companies selling widgets are building brands the way NPO’s ought to be: using causes as a rallying cry for a loyal brand culture. The organizations that actually know how to “do good” need to seize this opportunity.

If NPO’s don’t build strong, movement-like brands, Americans’ awareness and understanding of what they do could become diminished in favor of for-profit models of involvement.

The opportunity may be found in forming partnerships with the media companies. In order for networks like NBC to retain credibility with consumers as their cause-related programming becomes mainstream, they’ll most likely need to partner with nonprofits that already have brand equity with that particular cause. A partnership of this sort entrenches a nonprofit within the program long before any advertisers get involved, plus the media company gets kudos for getting involved with a nonprofit.

Lights Out Branding

mackerelI stumbled into a brilliant Social Movement Marketing case study at Mashable’s Summer of Social Good Conference last week. Andy Ridley, the executive director of Earth Hour, presented an inspiring case study of the work his organization (WWF) has been doing.

Previously I’ve discussed how successful social movements are able to balance a seemingly contradictory dynamic: They empower individuals by forming one collective identity. Followers of a movement join a group of many to achieve personal betterment; the way mackerel form schools to increase the chances of survival for each individual fish.

Abstruse as this may be, Earth Hour is a perfect example of how to work this balance in the cause world.

Picture 1You may have participated in Earth Hour without even knowing it. In Sydney, Australia in 2007, Earth Hour convinced 2 million people to shut off their lights for an hour at the same time. The stunt has now become an annual global event that, in 2009 saw 4,000 cities and 1 billion people participate. (Watch a great video about it here.)

For one organization to inspire one fifth of the planet to act in unison, they needed for all participants to bear the responsibility of promoting the movement. Earth Hour’s brand, manifested in its culture of joy, communion, and hope, transcends geography, nationality, and class. However, it was Earth Hour’s ability to let people personalize the brand that really generated a movement.

People took those core virtues of joy, communion, and hope and ran with them. Some people organized candlelit beer pong, some organized rock concerts, some hosted dinner parties, some had bon fires, and the ideas went on and on. From Israel to Iowa, people took ownership of the movement, but everything remained in the context of the culture of Earth Hour.

However, we must recognize that this wasn’t the luck of the draw. Earth Hour set out to encourage people to personalize the brand or movement. They offered access to download any of the promotional creative work to use as templates, created a forum for people to share materials they had created on their own, and made available all of the social networking tools necessary for people to take the reins of the movement.

Brands must offer both the collective identity and the personal reason to believe. Earth Hour mastered both and changed the world, at least for 60 minutes. As the media landscape changes to favor individuals, relinquishing brand ownership to the people will inevitably be necessary…all we can do now is set the context.

Fiesta Time!

FordFiestaMovementIt’s nice to see the theory of Social Movement Marketing get some national exposure…too bad it had to come from the Ford Motor Co. Though Ford (and GM for that matter) have consistently botched their attempts to sell cars that American youths relate to, Ford has nailed it this time…at least from a marketing standpoint.

To market their new Fiesta model, a sub-compact for urban youths, Ford is running a campaign called the Ford Fiesta Movement. Sound familiar? Rather than spending $30 million dollars cramming TV spots into NFL games, which they usually do, Ford recruited 100 “agents” to spend 6 months with the car and to use social media to tell EVERYONE about it.

These Fiesta agents get a free car, free insurance, free gas, and national exposure for 6 months. Each of the 100 agents embodies what the Fiesta brand wants to be: Young, urban, artsy, funky, curious, active, and most importantly, savvy in social media. In return for living the Fiesta life for half a year, these agents are charged with essentially tweeting this car into pop-culture lore.

The Fiesta movement’s website aggregates all of the agents’ tweets, pics, flics, vids, blogs, nings, and any other contemporary monosyllabic networking tool into one, well organized place where you can learn everything you need to know about the Ford Fiesta culture.

Perhaps most surprising is that Ford was able to resist making the campaign egregiously self-serving. Understanding that product information doesn’t start social movements, Ford gave the agents specific missions to accomplish (with their Fiesta at their side) that focus on community service, activism, and culture. They’re using these 100 agents to be the poster children for an aspirational urban identity, of which the Fiesta is a small but necessary part.

This is, of course, fundamentally how social movements work. They define a vivid collective identity (active, multi cultural, urban youths), empower charismatic leaders (the agents), and spread influence through stories (missions) and word-of-mouth (social media).

Traditionally, social movements have relied on word-of-mouth because buying TV spots was far too expensive. Now, thanks to social media, word-of-mouth has become what TV used to be: the most influential means of communication, and marketers are looking to own that too.

Consumer brands may put together impressive campaigns like the Fiesta movement, but they can’t own it – nonprofits have an equal opportunity to push influence in social media. A nonprofit could easily find young activists (start with your volunteers) to be agents for a cause. For example, put 50 young, multi-ethnic, urbanites on the street with a cheap video camera, have them film discriminations they come across in daily life, put it in an online documentary, promote it on Twitter, and you’ll get more national attention than 6-months worth of highway billboards would get you.

For help with your social media strategy call BRANDEMiX.

Sell the culture not the cause

storyIn consumer marketing there’s a term called “selling the category.” For example, if your company sells spray-tan and you run an ad that says “look like George Hamilton all year,” you would be selling the category – you’re only convincing consumers of their need to buy spray-tan in general, but not your particular brand. Unless you’re the market-share leader, selling the category is not a good practice because it benefits the competition as much (or more) as it benefits you.

I’m adapting the term for the nonprofit world: selling the cause. A lot of nonprofits do this. They convince people of the general importance of a cause, but say nothing specific about their organization to position it as the solution. However noble it may be, this doesn’t help your organization build “market share” or brand equity.

It’s becoming increasingly important to avoid just selling the cause. There are more organizations than ever – 60% of nonprofits are less than 30 years old. In every single cause category the competition is getting steeper for increasingly fewer available dollars. Chances are, your nonprofit is not the biggest in the category, in which case you have to make a case for yourself not your cause.

That’s where brand comes in.

Just as consumers buy brands for the culture not just the product, people join social movements for the culture not just the cause. Whether it’s the hipster movement of the 60’s or today’s straight-edge movement, they all have a distinct culture in addition to a specific social or political agenda, because it’s that which magnetically attracts followers. The cause provides all of the tangible reasons to join a movement, but the culture provides the ultimate emotional impetus to act.

The same goes for nonprofits. They’re all based on fighting for a cause, but the ones with the most culture have the strongest brands, which is manifested in more donations, volunteers, and more loyal employees.

NPR has done a great job of building a magnetic culture. They’ve built a steady, unapologetic culture of highly educated people who value long-style, in-depth reporting and they’ve sold this culture through social media. They stopped asking for money “because public radio is important” and started defining a movement of young, thought-leaders who are growing up to discover that they’re dissatisfied with the state of journalism today.

With social media as pervasive as it is today, communications is now actually the easy part. The hard part is defining a culture that’s unique and making a dedication to selling it rather than the cause.

For help defining your culture, call BRANDEMiX.

Activate your bandits

artest_peta_adIngrid Newkirk, president of PETA, said, “thinkers may prepare revolutions, but bandits must carry them out.” Her speech is often dripping with social movement metaphors – she clearly recognizes the importance of turning boardroom theory into action.

Since your brand is the personality of your organization, it’s that which is responsible for inspiring action. It cannot be merely an intellectual endeavor; it must be able to move people on the ground level.

For consumer brands, this simply means convincing people to buy products, but the cause world is more difficult. Indulgence is an easier sell than benevolence. Inherently, a non-profit’s ultimate goal is to start a social movement: getting people to come together to fight for a cause. But more often it’s the consumer brands that have defined cultures.

Which is easier to describe: a Harley owner or a YMCA volunteer? Is there a reason one has to be more distinct than the other?

Ingrid Newkirk would say no. In fact she’s built a powerful non-profit brand, rife with personality and culture. Whether you support their tactics or not, you could describe a PETA activist to a “t”… it probably involves a can of paint.

PETA has achieved social movement status (2 million members) because its brand incorporates all the critical aspects of social movements as discussed in my first post:

1. A common identity: It’s not merely belief in a common cause (that there are no dominant species) that brings PETA members together, but more so that they share core values or personality traits: veganism, extremism, and risk taking.

2. Rituals or codes: PETA members rally around a very clear credo of behavior: “direct action.” Defining a code of behavior is a natural way to build a culture around a cause, which social movements have used forever (for example see nonviolent resistance).

3. Social interaction: PETA has always forced word-of-mouth through controversial action. This ad is a perfect example.
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Finding celebrities to support a cause is on every non-profit’s agenda, but PETA gets them naked. That is to say, they stay true to their brand, and infuse their ads with controversy. If a given celebrity won’t take the risk, then he/she wouldn’t fit the brand anyway.

PETA takes controversy to an extreme, but without a strong opinion people will have no reason to talk about your organization. Newkirk also said, “we’re the biggest group because we succeed in getting attention.” PETA didn’t start as the only animal cruelty group and they’re not the only one now, but they succeed to a higher degree because they create word-of-mouth. They use celebrities for good (Pam Anderson) and bad (Michael Vick) to force themselves into everyday culture.

4. Emblematic event: PETA emerged on the national scene in 1981 when they had a scientist arrested for experimenting on monkeys in a lab in Silver Spring, MD. The controversy ultimately ended up in the Supreme Court where an amendment to the animal welfare act was made. It was then that PETA’s culture of national attention and dedication to “direct action” were conceived.

5. Voice of leadership: Clearly Newkirk has worked hard to perpetuate the culture that has made PETA such a success.

If you can piece these elements together you stand an excellent chance of creating a brand that can truly move people on the ground level. For help taking your brand out of the boardroom and into the streets check out BRANDEMiX.

Brand comes from the heart not the mouth

If you’re looking to craft a brand that naturally attracts donors and volunteers the way social movements attract followers, start by getting a mirror. Just about everything you need to know about your brand can be found by looking within your organization.

A brand isn’t just conjured out of thin air. There must be substance behind it or your brand will never amount to more than just a catch phrase. Your organization’s culture and the personality of your people should serve as the greatest source of inspiration for your brand. This will keep your brand grounded in something real and tangible while attracting followers magnetically.

Social movements sell culture. Aside from a shared passion for the cause at hand, movement followers buy into all of the cultural elements of a movement like rhetoric, music, art, and the feeling of empowerment that comes when you join a like-minded collective. These are the elements that make movements grow virally and organically.

Consumers’ connection to a brand will always be less than or equal to employees’ connection to it. The same can be said about non-profits and donors, volunteers, and board members. If they’re not evangelists, you can bet no one else will be.

The first step in leveraging your culture is to find out what it is. You probably don’t know it as well as you think. Do some internal research to figure out why, and to what extent people within the organization connect with the brand. Set up some employee focus groups and interview executives. Look for discrepancies in how the different constituencies articulate the values of the company. How do they describe the culture? What is the temperament of the organization? How do they describe its personality? How much do they really understand the brand?

You may find out that your culture is rather nondescript and bland, in which case your brand is weak. If you do have a well-defined culture, that is to say, there’s a distinct style, attitude, and personality, it’s time to apply that to the communication channels – this is the fun part.

Your mission statement should have the tone and voice that your employees have. Your email campaign should have an attitude. Your tweets should be undeniably “you.” People will join your cause not because of all the rational reasons that you present so vividly, but because you’re speaking their language. You share their core beliefs, opinions, and passions: their culture. And if you don’t have one, they won’t find you.

For help doing internal research check out BRANDEMiX.

What’s in it for me?

37406361_a1604773a0In 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.

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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.

For help creating ads like these, contact BRANDEMiX.