'Do-Gooders' Are Brands Too

Nonprofits, NGOs Are Spending Big Bucks to Get Message Out in Face of Corporate Cause Competition

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Noelle Weaver Noelle Weaver
Hollywood actors, rock stars and corporate titans are all embracing cause marketing and increasing our perception that we need to act now to "save the world." To do it, we need to buy something. Create something. Use something.

Never before has the world of corporate brands and consumer pop culture been so closely linked to cause marketing and the philanthropic world. But if corporate America is all about effecting change, what about the millions of nonprofits, nongovernment organizations and social foundations that have made it their sole focus to "do good" instead of pushing this season's SKUs off store shelves?

Nonprofits and foundations are still treated like orphan children in the advertising and marketing industry.

Sure, within our industry, agencies have historically adopted causes and helped people in need for a year or two at a time, and maybe lent some creative talent. Too bad if the search consultants won't consider the creative as part of a submission. We know we won an award or two -- and it makes us look good. It also makes us feel good. And isn't our creative, one-off public service announcement helping them generate a little buzz and a spike in donations? But we know deep in our hearts that these organizations could never really be clients.

You know the excuses. As an agency, one could argue that there's no solid business gains to be made. Nonprofits don't feed the bottom line. You won't get press coverage for all your hard work. They're thick with bureaucratic things that never get approved or are focus-grouped to death. Nonprofits don't have the guts (or willingness) to break from the pack. The work is formulaic. And as organizations go, many struggle with the fact that marketing is seen as a dirty world in the nonprofit sector, a necessary evil that no one admits spending too much money or time on. To nonprofits, agencies don't "get" the intricate nature of their brands. Their ideas are too risky for conservative audiences. "Our work and creative strategy is formulaic, and it's always worked for us before," they seem to say.

But lately, things have started to change.

It's simple. In today's market, brands matter. In fact nonprofits, NGOs and social organizations are starting to spend big bucks on marketing, advertising, public relations, research and brand identity to drive awareness across the consumer and philanthropic landscape -- over 7.3 billion by some estimates. And they have to. There's calls to buy green. Support this cause. Threats of a recession. Weekly natural disasters. It's no wonder that donor fatigue is setting in. Organizations have to move beyond mailing out a cute, fuzzy brochure when 223 other nonprofits and corporate cause marketers are competing for the same dollar.

Crispin's rise to fame was through the work they did for the American Legacy Foundation. This past summer, Al Gore's Alliance for Climate Change launched an agency review in which big agencies competed for big ad dollars. And let's not forget brand names like the Lance Armstrong Foundation, the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and Susan G. Komen for the Cure, who know who they are, what they stand for and how to capitalize emotionally on their brand.

Many of the successful nonprofit organizations in today's marketplace are recognizing that it is more important than ever to follow the laws of branding. They need to create their point of distinction or risk blending in with their competitive set. They need to know how to better tell their story and who to tell it to. Powerful nonprofit brands and social foundations will raise more money, attract more volunteers and help more people if the public better understands who they are and what they stand for.

While work for these organizations may not be game-changers, as small agencies, we offer the speed, flexibility and strategic insight many nonprofits need. Today, creativity and creative thinking is a powerful driving force (look at the success of UNICEF's Tap Project). More and more nonprofits are using the web and other "new media" tools to find new ways to raise funds, build communities that create lasting relationships, tell their stories and compete against the corporations that are spending three times as much on marketing for that special pink limited-edition whirly-bob.

For nonprofits and foundations, it's all about the "brand." Just like the big consumer giants, their success is determined by the perception consumers have about their products and services.
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