It’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.
In 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.
Ingrid Newkirk, president of PETA, said, “thinkers may prepare revolutions, but bandits must carry them out.” generic cialis cheap 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.
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.