Some nonprofits hear the word “marketing” and cringe. After reading Mad Women by Jane Maas, I can understand why–and also why that reaction is out of date.
According to Maas, there was a revolution in advertising during the 1960’s. Before that, “Hammers pounded away at the inside of an animated head while a voice-of-God announcer reported that Anacin cured headaches three ways.” Cora’s Country Store poured Maxwell House coffee, Madge the Manicurist recommended Palmolive dish soap (“You’re soaking in it”), and Mr. Whipple couldn’t help squuezing the Charmin. And of course, cartoon characters like the Frito Bandito urged us to eat too much salty food, while Speedy Alka-Seltzer offered the solution.
Maas says the old kind of advertising “believed the consumer was a moron.” So nonprofits recoil. Our supporters are not morons! They are brilliant enough to appreciate us, aren’t they?
The truth is that very few people will know about our work, let alone appreciate it, unless we market it. Marketing is more than advertising. But if we have an advertising model in mind, it should not be Speedy Alka-Seltzer. Let’s not consult Don Draper or Peggy Olson.
What did advertising become, after the revolution?
- Irreverent. Don’t take ourselves too seriously, even if we work on serious issues.
- Intelligent. Give people ideas, not just slogans, in a way that is made to stick.
- Honest. Sometimes admitting a weakness is endearing. Remember “Avis is #2. We try harder”?
- Informed. Focus groups kept Jane Maas from trying to peddle a cheaper coffee, and proved that even if Shake and Bake was a hit, Batter Fry would be a disaster.
Some nonprofits have the budget to do extensive research before they create a program or seek to fund it. All of us need to gather information about how our “great ideas” will play out with people outside the charmed circle of our staff and Board. And all of us need to find the message that will resonate with people who don’t know or care about our organizations as much as we do. It pays to advertise.