Humans are empathic and need motivation and inspiration to engage in movements and especially to be part of movements long-term. That inspiration and motivation comes from a narrative and images we attach to the movement’s core values and beliefs. It is the story of the person’s condition and being challenged—yet at the same time not able to seek the opportunity that should be afforded to them, and the potential ahead of them. For this reason, the creative we surround the movement with is vital.

Some of the most successful social movements for good developed strategies and approaches where creative was included to spark involvement from participants. These strategies and approaches have been the support for movements to gain traction—although on their own, and not as the linchpin that made the movement itself. This is important to understand, as movements require more than just great-looking creatives to be successful. It is a combination of creative, message, people and activism together.

When developing the creative for your cause, consider these three elements to set your movement up for success:

1. Leverage a call-to-action already consistent with an individual’s typical behavior.

The behavior of people is hard to change and can take time – usually more time than you’d like. If your creative asks participants to do something outside their norm, you probably won’t see the response you’re hoping for.

Take the UNICEF Tap Project, for example. In 2007, UNICEF’s creative agency designed an awareness campaign where restaurant customers were encouraged to donate $1 (or more) when ordering tap water (which is typically free). In the first year alone, the project’s activation occurred in 300 restaurants and raised more than $100,000 to help provide clean drinking water to people in developing countries. It worked so well because the action is easy to do and is already part of a person’s normal routine. During the campaign, an individual at a participating restaurant didn’t have to do anything outside of the norm – they simply had to order tap water and decide whether or not to donate a dollar.

2. Feature real people.

Your organization serves and supports the challenges real people face, so why wouldn’t your creative reflect those people? Messaging and design that is both relatable and realistic to your cause will create the emotional connections necessary to take your movement to the next level. Make sure your creative includes all of the following:

  1. Images: Timely and relevant; telling the narrative of the individual instead of the crowd; featuring faces of real people who are seeking opportunity (the empowerment the gifts are directed toward)
  2. Video: Content that focuses on the individual, not the organization
  3. Messaging: Speaks to how the individual is specifically affected

One campaign that successfully illustrated the importance of the “real person” is the Dove Real Beauty Campaign. The campaign concept started with a research approach seeking to understand the challenges women were facing at the time with their bodies and self-esteem (or lack thereof). After finding that only 2 percent of women around the world described themselves as “beautiful,” the Dove brand set out to change that mindset using real women of all ages, sizes, ethnicities and body types. The campaign was successful because it sparked a conversation so many people were feeling but never had an outlet to express themselves through. The campaign creative told the story of real beauty beyond the typical images that so many were used to seeing.

3. Make it possible for your audience to identify with your issue.

Campaign messaging can take two approaches: talking down to audiences or leveling audiences. Talking down to audiences only serves to make donors feel guilty or as if it’s their fault the people helped by that organization need assistance. This type of rhetoric doesn’t tend to work well with donors. With leveling statements, however, the donor can easily identify with someone who is affected by the issue, which is much more impactful in terms of changing interest into action.

This type of identification can be seen in a campaign executed by the American Legacy Foundation: The Truth Campaign. On a mission to decrease the number of teens smoking, the Truth Campaign chose not to talk down to teens or feature an adult telling teens not to smoke. Instead, they chose to inform their audience and allow them to make their own decisions. One of the most aggressive of the campaign’s creative was its Body Bags short that featured 1,200 body bags on the doorsteps of Big Tobacco companies. The campaign was successful—it prevented approximately 450,000 teens nationwide from starting smoking—because it helped these teens identify with the campaign rather than being talked down to.

Sharing messages, spreading opportunities for change and being a part of something bigger takes a message, a sender and your participants’ abilities to feel like they can truly make a difference.

Social movement builders need to help the audience understand their opportunity and power to change all while not degrading the audience itself or separating them from others because of a lack of involvement. Positioning creative to help the individual partake in action that matters should be the goal of any creative design team associated with a social movement. Creating a narrative that makes anyone the master of the movement through their actions is the power of a strong social movement and the opportunity creative can have to move people from inaction, to understanding, to participant, to believer, to organizer.


Derrick recently released Social Movements for Good to help us better understand how today’s viral social good movements make their way into our culture. Social Movements for Good is available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Derrick Feldmann is the founder and producer of MCON, the nation’s premier conference on Millennials and causes. He leads research for The Millennial Impact Project and serves as president of Achieve, a research and creative agency for causes.

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