Jeff We Can: Lessons in Mission-Driven Marketing

C Now - Jeff We CanIt’s one of the little white lies that many of us in the nonprofit/social venture field tell ourselves: if we only had more money/time/resources, we could market our missions more effectively. Mission-driven marketing is always a challenge in a media environment with multiple channels, various worthy causes, and ever-decreasing resources. (Chicago-area nonprofits and social ventures have very particular challenges as well). But when it comes to mission-driven marketing, there’s one example from popular culture that demystifies those “little white lies”, providing some great principles to use….and which is near and dear to my heart.

Recently, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver focused a discussion on the tobacco industry’s efforts to gain market share overseas, urging people to proclaim “#jeffwecan“. (Full Disclosure: In my professional past, I worked as a tobacco control specialist for the National Council on Alcoholism & Drug Abuse in St. Louis and had chaired the Tobacco Free Missouri coalition). Rather than recap, let me just go ahead and show you the piece (which has some non work-safe language):

Now, it may seem rather absurd on its face, but much like Stephen Colbert’s efforts around campaign funding, Last Week Tonight’s “Jeff We Can” manages to drive a strong discussion around a little-known issue. (You might want to check out other pieces about beauty pageants & scholarship funding, or even issues around the organization that puts on the World Cup). For both nonprofits and social ventures, mission-driven marketing can seem daunting. (Many agencies and ventures are still seeking the next “Ice Bucket Challenge”) However, there are some great underlying principles behind this piece, and which make for more effective mission-driven marketing.

  • Make your case plainly – Using humor to reinforce their arguments, Last Week Tonight provides an articulate, well-reasoned argument against Phillip Morris’ efforts. (After all, not every news satire goes through t e trouble of translating a letter originally written in French). Despite focusing on global issues, the segment provides enough intellectual and emotional content that a wider audience – including Chicago-area viewers – can feel greater investment in that mission.
  • Use multiple channels effectively – From creating the hashtag        #jeffwecan, users can spread information via Facebook and Twitter, Releasing segments via YouTube eprovides potential advocates with a way of distributing information. Last Week Tonight’s “Jeff We Can” reaches people where they’re actually conversing online,  driving continuous conversation about tobacco industry misdeeds. By performing some research, many mission-driven organizations can find where people are discussing their particular areas of interest and more effectively engage those potential audiences.
  • Focus on visual media – Although blog content allows someone to make their case in writing, Last Week Tonight works on engaging people on a more deeper level. (Many studies around social media find that visual content drives three to five times more engagement than written media). From the overall segment to the design of Jeff, Last Week Tonight staff crafted a campaign that was well thought out, articulate, and really engages audiences intellectually and emotionally.
  • Provide a very clear call-to-action – Towards the end of the piece, John Oliver provides a solution for the tobacco industry, but also encourages viewers to take action via posting and hashtags. It’s clear what Last Week Tonight is wanting people to do – post and drive conversation around tobacco industry activities (and let’s be honest, #jeffwecan is rather catchy). It has led to a rebuttal from Phillip Morris, but more importantly, it provides a great example for nonprofits and social ventures. Asking people to take positive action is more important in mission-driven marketing than simply “building awareness.”

It’s very rare when popular culture provides some excellent “best practices” for mission-driven marketing. However, Last Week Tonight provided a smart, strategic approach to a public health problem. You may dismiss it through the absurdity of “Jeff, the Diseased Lung With a Cowboy Hat”, but beneath the absurdity is a strong mission: calling the tobacco industry out on its behavior. Many Chicago-area nonprofits and social ventures can learn much from this campaign…and I know that I will be integrated some of these into my own social media engagement.

Because one way to quit those “little white lies” we tell ourselves….is to dive deep into the truth.

So what do you think? Do you feel that Last Week Tonight acted out of line, or did they provide a well-crafted piece of entertainment and advocacy? Feel free to let us know in the comments below, or even join the conversation on our Facebook page. You’re also more than welcome to reach out to me personally – you can find my contact information via this blog’s About page.

And as always, thanks for reading….and #jeffwecan!

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