Tag Archives: NPO

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.

Udorse it, You bought it

apple-tatoo1I’m thrilled to introduce a special guest posting this week from writer and advertising illuminato Terry Selucky. Her work has been featured throughout the NY lit scene, most recently in New York Magazine. Below Terry shares insights into a new social media branding tool called Udorse. It’s a creative attempt to help brands leverage word-of-mouth in creating a movement. It’s a thought-provoking way of putting the onus on consumers to propel your movement.
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In 1994, when NPR’s All Things Considered broadcast an April Fool’s Day segment stating that corporations such as Pepsi, KFC, Apple and Gap would give a lifetime 10% discount to any teenager who would tattoo his or her ear with a corporate logo, droves of young people called in to find out how they could sign up. Those who knew better laughed.

But 15 years after the hoax, as we’re just beginning to settle into the digital age, Udorse.com has created the social media equivalent of a tattooed ear. By tagging certain items on photos throughout personal pages online, an individual can share favorite brands and, when tagging Udorse’s partners, earn money with each Udorsement. The tagger has the option to either donate his or her reward earnings to a favorite charity or have them deposited directly into a PayPal account.

Udorse.com, a company backed by Founders Fund and featured at TechCrunch50, is a direct response to the individual’s increasing desire—and ability—to ignore traditional advertising. DVR has allowed viewers to skip TV spots; pop-up blockers prohibit unwanted messages. Now, more than ever, consumers are filtering through the flotsam to get to products that are useful, sexy and recommended by someone they trust. But will Udorse catch on with advertising-elusive, tech-savvy consumers?

Probably not the way the company envisions, or hopes. Udorse claims to “empower each of us to endorse the items and places in our photos that we want to help support, and share with our friends.” That’s true, and well-spun. And Gen X may try it out, but while many successful brands are proudly touted as part of one’s identity, Gen Y is too skeptical to buy into a program that could so easily be seen as “selling out.”

It’s a logical leap forward in consumer-driven advertising, but it will only survive if people find it useful—or if advertisers find it profitable. Most likely, other companies are going to create better, more palatable versions of the same idea. And in the meantime, finding the function and form of your company remains top priority.

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.

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.

Personify or perish

At the end of my last post, I casually threw out the idea that people relate to people not organizations, and accordingly, organizations must take on a personality of their own or risk being perceived as ordinary.

But why is this the case?

Because personification is how humans go about understanding inanimate objects. We tend to personify things that we feel the need to have an emotional bond with. We name our cars, think of our boats as women, and treat our pets like children.

My mother used to guilt me into wearing certain sweaters when I was a kid by telling me they felt sad because “they never get to be worn like the other ones.”

We also personify what we don’t fully understand as a way to be rational about things that scare us. We name hurricanes and atomic bombs. We take abstracts like God, death, and the devil and anthropomorphize them into concepts that we can deal with like the grim reaper and Mephistopheles.

You’ll notice that when we lend human personality traits to objects we are celebrating their individuality, uniqueness, and importance. By naming your convertible and talking about it like it’s a woman, you are establishing that it’s different than all other cars on the road and that it’s of emotional importance to you. Conversely, when we want to dehumanize someone, we treat them like objects and strip them of their individuality and importance. Essentially, we un-personify them. Racists dehumanize people by saying “they all look the same” and sexists treat women like objects.

Companies build brands with human characteristics to help us find a way to relate to their products and to differentiate from the competition – essentially celebrating their corporate individuality.
mini-cooper-billboard
NPO’s and causes don’t sell products to which we can assign human traits, so what to do? We can sell the culture the way social movements do.

The paradoxical brilliance of social movements is that they’re able to build strong, unified cultures by encouraging individuality. Freedom of expression solidifies culture not the opposite. Aside from the traditional channels of expression for social movements like language, art, and press, web 2.0 has given us the “golden opportunity” to put the onus on all organization members to lead conversations and energize the cause. All members should be encouraged to contribute to blogs, share videos, and tweet about the cause…and it must unfiltered and authentic. Encourage self-expression through any and every channel.

Let your people build the organization’s personality for you. Without it, you’ll just be another inanimate object.

– For more information on building your internal culture visit BRANDEMiX.
– To join a free webinar on communicating the personality of your brand RSVP to webinar@brandemix.com

What’s the story with your mission?

081005171231-240-124You may have seen this photograph before…it’s one of the most famous of the 20th Century and certainly of the Vietnam War. Aside from sheer terror captured by the photographer (Nick Ut), it’s the story behind the photo that propelled this image to infamy.

The naked, screaming girl is Phan Thị Kim Phúc. American and South Vietnamese pilots had just finished bombing her town and had mistaken her and her fellow citizens fleeing the city for soldiers, and attacked. She ran crying down the street as napalm scorched the skin on her back. This story became a lynchpin of the anti war and anti napalm movements in America.

Stories have always been critical to the success of social movements. They’ve been used to incite action by exposing injustice the way Rodney King’s story was used to provoke riots in LA and eventually became a symbol of the bubbling tension between the distressed black community and white law enforcement. And they’ve been used like fables to articulate the moral framework of a movement, the best example of which is religion, which in my mind is the most successful social movement in history.

In fact, religion is essentially organized storytelling from which we draw moral and personal conclusions. The bible is an anthology of these stories. Sociologist Gary Alan Fine said “a movement is a bundle of stories…a group with a shared narrative is more likely to mobilize it’s members.” Religion’s, and especially Christianity’s, ability to mobilize its members has hinged on a very familiar schema for storytelling: “I once was lost and now I’m found.” This formula has been efficacious in its ability to draft follower’s because it promises transformation if you join its collective identity.

What’s your organization’s collective identity? What does it promise? What are the stories that define your cause? Do they just highlight the importance of your work or do they have a moral framework? Are they capable of mobilizing people?

Consumer brands have very sophisticated stories. Apple established a narrative condemning the drab and oppressive PC establishment while mobilizing their forces to fight for creativity starting with the 1984 spot and continuing today in the Mac vs PC spots. Stories of Harley Davidson’s popularity with the Hell’s Angels have given the brand an enduring culture of rebellion.

What’s interesting to me about the stories that consumer brands tell is that almost all of them are completely made up – fabricated by genius spin doctors at ad agencies. Whereas NPO’s and causes have real stories to tell, many basing their very existence on the founder’s personal quest. However, due to the inequities of the media market, we hear so few of them.

One of the ways NPO’s do attempt to tell their stories is by utilizing the ubiquitous and oft-insipid mission statement. These statements are too often stripped of the real storytelling elements and exist only as a regrettable corporate necessity. It’s too often an opportunity missed.

The good news is that it’s easier than ever to tell your story. Getting an audience on the Internet is not a monumental feat (the fact that you’re reading this is a testimonial to that.) We have a forum for accessing the population so it’s now about understanding how to use this medium for effective storytelling. So I pose the question: what are the best practices for storytelling via web 2.0?

In my next post I will dissect the traditional elements of storytelling and explore their applications in the web 2.0 world. In the meantime, check out BRANDEMiX.