5 Non-Profits With Really Smart Advertising And What You Can Learn From Them


Digital marketing is vital in any organization, providing your brand with the potential to drive more sales and engagements. There has been a 50 percent overall increase in digital marketing budgets since 2016, and by 2019, 72 percent of all digital marketing spend will be on mobile ads alone.

The importance of digital advertising has never been more central to your success.

However, studies show that nearly half of the U.S. population dislikes ads that are unrelatable — and who can blame them? Unrelatable ads are intrusive to the consumer.

Smart advertising campaigns that are tailored to a brand’s target market are the stepping stones to customers loyalty. That’s why big brands, like Coca-Cola or Starbucks, strive to continually create dazzling ad campaigns that resonate with their audiences.

While you may be more familiar with promo campaigns from the corporates with large marketing budgets, there are plenty of advertising campaigns within the non-profit market to inspire you. The playing field is the same, but the goal posts are different.

Non-profit organizations aren’t just out for sales in exchange for a product or service, but are instead after donations and people’s hearts and minds.

This means that non-profit organizations have to ramp up their creativity a notch when it comes to their advertising in order to compete. Take a look through the examples below, and you’ll see just how well they do it — and what you can learn from them too…

Social Tees Animal Rescue

In 2016, the New York-based non-profit Social Tees Animal Rescue launched their ‘Puppy Love’ campaign. Growing from the idea that dogs find love in the same place that humans do, Social Tees created profiles for a number of their homeless pups. They then matched them with real New Yorkers, who met up and went on ‘dates’ with them, going onto either foster or even adopt them long-term.

What you can learn from it

The ‘Puppy Love’ campaign’s success was down to its sheer creativity. Social Tees reached out to their target audience surreptitiously, via a social platform that isn’t known for charity activity. This let them get their audience’s attention when their guard was down, leaving them less resistant to the charity’s message.

Advertising doesn’t have to be rigid, set in stone. Get creative with how you approach your audience and consider other avenues through which you can reach them.

WaterAid & The Pub

In 2015, WaterAid debuted to the world their #GiveAShit campaign, a tongue-in-cheek attempt to educate audiences about the lack of sanitary toilet facilities for third world countries.

A free app let people create and customize their own poop emoji to share with their friends and family, and the campaign created more than 230 million impressions and generated over 11,000 new supporters to the charity.

What you can learn from it

Where previous charity efforts to raise awareness of poor sanitation were largely sad and emotionally-charged, the #GiveAShit campaign gave it an unprecedented humorous spin through their successful and confident adoption of popular culture, namely the poop emoji. This cheeky approach engaged their audience through humor, a highly effective tactic for any marketer. Indeed, a study by Taiwanese researchers found that humor draws attention and increases brand recognition, a crucial goal for marketers. So don’t be afraid to use a little comedy in your strategy (although be sure not to take it too far!)

ALS Association

Easily one of the most memorable advertising campaigns on this list, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge was one of the most popular social media campaigns of 2014. The idea was a simple (albeit uncomfortable!) one: people douse themselves in a bucket of icy water, then put forward their friends to drench themselves too, donating to the ALS Association in the process. Celebrities ranging from Ben Stiller to Oprah Winfrey got involved, and it ended up raising over $115 million.

What you can learn from it

The Ice Bucket Challenge’s success lies in its sheer virality. Thanks to the mandatory nominations, more than 17 million people participated in the challenge. User-generated content is one of the the most effective factors for driving engagement in marketing, but also one of the hardest things to get right. User-generated content is also great for connecting with Generation Y. Millennials trust UGC 50 percent more than branded content, believing the testimonial of their peers over that of a brand. Give your audience a benefit or a reason to engage with your advertising and get them to share it, and your customers can do your marketing for you.

Make Poverty History

The Make Poverty History campaign reached worldwide notoriety with their series of ‘click’ adverts, aimed at raising awareness for their far-reaching campaign to end poverty. The video featured a range of celebrities such as Brad Pitt, 50 Cent, Penelope Cruz, and Cameron Diaz, wearing the iconic white wristbands and clicking their fingers to symbolize a victim of poverty dying every three seconds. Promoted alongside the Live Aid concert in London, it was one of largest anti-poverty movements ever.

What you can learn from it

The campaign’s wild success was down to a plethora of factors. From the A-list celebrities lending their support to the emotionally-charged minimalist style, the adverts truly resonated with people. Indeed, it was its stark simplicity that really made it stand out from the crowd.

Its success was also down to the continued awareness it received from the nationwide adoption of the white wristbands. Sold online with donations going to the charity, it became a physical tie-in with the ongoing marketing campaign, making it impossible to ignore. This is a tactic that you can employ for your nonprofit too.

Using a wristband, t-shirt or other accessory in your advertising is a great way to drive continued awareness for your cause. It’s easy and cheap to set up an online store, and profits from your sales can go towards continued revenue for your nonprofit.

Keep America Beautiful

The ‘I Want To Be Recycled’ campaign encourages people to stop littering and start recycling… but from the point of view of the trash. With the tagline ‘give your garbage another life’, Keep America Beautiful’s advertising shows people all the things that their garbage could be: benches, bicycles, kitchen tiles, and so on.

Photo: I Want To Be Recycled

What you can learn from it

Keep America Beautiful uses this campaign to tell a unique and surprisingly emotional story about something that wouldn’t usually warrant one. Their video series showing the journey of an aluminum can, from its recycling to its part in building a stadium, are a creative take on what would otherwise be a fairly impregnable, scientific subject.

A study of 1400 successful marketing campaigns compared emotion-led ads with rationale-led ads, and found that the former reported high profit increases almost twice as often as the latter (31 percent compared with the latter’s 16 percent). Emotion evidently plays a huge role in marketing, and is something well worth capitalizing on. Connect with your viewers emotionally and tell your brand or product’s personal story, whatever it may be.

When it comes to slick advertising, it’s not just your big name commercial brands that are bossing it. Non-profit organizations for everything from animal rescue to disease research are also crushing it with hard-hitting and deeply resonating marketing campaigns. Learn from them and get smart with your advertising too, and experience the rewards that they have received too.

Victoria Greene is a freelance writer who lives and works in Chicago. She’s a guru for anything digital, and her blog, Victoria Ecommerce, is your one-stop shop for the latest on ecommerce, marketing, and branding.

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