Nonprofits Get Edgy With Marketing Campaigns

587214_handsA number of nonprofits and top agencies are collaborating to produce provocative ads and marketing to shock audiences and raise attention for their causes.

According to a New York Times article, Water for Life (with help from agency DDB New York) dared New Yorkers to drink up water from subway stations and other polluted sources in Brooklyn to raise awareness for its cause to provide fresh water to villages in developing countries.

Unfortunately, some donors are beginning to tune out or get angry because of the constant bombardment of charities asking for our dollars – in the mail, at the grocery store/department store, on TV and online. In fact, the number of registered nonprofit organizations rose by more than 21 percent to 1.58 million from 2001 to 20011 (National Center for Charitable Statistics).

Focus groups conducted by Public Agenda found that too-frequent mailings and aggressive telemarketing led to “a high level of annoyance” among donors. And that report was published in 2005, a year before Twitter enabled charities to send 140-character fund-raising appeals. A recent study examining 55 nonprofit organizations found the volume of email appeals received by typical subscribers jumped about 16 percent from 2011 to 2012. Sarah DiJulio, principal of M & R Strategic Services, which conducted the study, said that one way nonprofit organizations broke through the clutter was “just to send more messages all the time.”

So does that mean nonprofits need to get crazy and wacky? Or have big agency resources to make a creative message? Probably not. For some campaigns the unconventional marketing has succeeded in getting attention and donations, but many more have been successful using consistent messaging and traditional tactics.

Historically, the 1891 deployment of the Salvation Army’s bell ringers during the Christmas season was one of the first guerrilla marketing campaigns by a charity. As was the introduction of Christmas Seals in 1907 by the American Lung Association.

Then, some brands are trying to connect with donors by using trends like “WTF?” which can be attention getting but not necessarily effective for your message… In this case, WTF refers to What the Fact?/historic sites in Canada or Where’s the Funding?/ Humane Society of the US.

In a great bit of advice, one marketer commented:
“Anything you do has to be true to the tone of the cause that you are advertising for. When you say ‘WTF?’ and it’s art, I get a real good connection. Art always challenges people. If you said WTF? for giving shots to children in Africa, I think your shock value is going to override your message.”

While it can be exciting to have a big agency on board to help with marketing, its not necessary to engage audiences to care about your cause and communicate effectively.

What has been your favorite nonprofit campaign? Which nonprofit campaign was the most shocking to you?

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About promotionalguru

A marketing communications professional helping other marketing professionals, business leaders and marketing students gain a better understanding of trends in advertising and public relations as well as tips for being a successful marketer.

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