You’ve probably seen it but not realized it: an Airbnb ad that doesn’t show pictures of fun travel destinations. A Nike ad with Colin Kaepernick’s face. A New York Times ad that doesn’t mention the news. Values-based marketing is omnipresent, but often goes without notice.
What is values-based marketing?
In the corporate world, this is marketing focused on promoting personal beliefs and values over products, which is often also referred to a “purpose marketing.” And the trend is taking over – in fact, earlier this year Unilever announced that its brands that leverage purpose-based messaging have grown 69% faster than the rest of its portfolio. As a result, Unilever’s CEO has since announced that only brands that embody some sort of “purpose” will have a long-term future with Unilever.
This creates a much more personal relationship with corporate brands with the aim to encourage brand loyalty by inviting consumers to better relate to who the brand is, as if it was a person. The trend is starting to blur the communication and brand efforts of our non-profit work.
So how did values-based marketing get its start and what does this mean for us as nonprofit professionals?
A brief step back in time
Remember when you met a group of young people who wanted to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony? It’s a Coke® ad from 1971 and has been ranked as one of the most influential advertisements of all time. This ad demonstrates what was then new and innovative: linking a product with ideas of happiness and love.
The ad appeared as a subversive response to a growing conservative swing in America:
“Many Americans, particularly working class and middle-class whites, responded to the turbulence of the late 1960s by embracing a new kind of conservative populism.”
-The History Channel
Also in 1971, organizations like Greenpeace rose up. Founded with a vision of a green and peaceful world, supporters rallied around their cause of nuclear disarmament, easily making the connections between values-based messaging and their core mission work.
Now, like then
The potential climate from 1971 feels a bit familiar doesn’t it? As we saw then, people, organizations and companies are increasingly staking out their share by standing up and declaring their values. For brands, it’s likely because their key demographic is younger and often considered more “brand-malleable,” so a customer won over at this stage can mean several decades of lifelong loyalty. As well, millennials have been shown to distrust traditional advertising, so a values-based campaign could be the piece that brings it all together.
What does this mean for nonprofits?
A for-profit company’s connection to heartfelt values can seem forced if it is not backed up by legitimate action (often referred to as “woke-washing”). Charities and nonprofits have a natural advantage because their core work is based in changing the world for the better.
Charities that position themselves now have the potential to become marquis brands in the future, carrying their new supporters with them. Only a few charities are using values-based marketing, meaning that there is more potential for those that do so early. As well, with corporations stepping into the values-based/social good space, charities and nonprofits are at risk of losing donor dollars to values-based purchases which can now provide that sense of “donor glow” of doing the “right thing”.
And finally it could be a solution for so many charities that wonder how to appeal to donors under 40 without a literal rock star spokesperson or a slick campaign well out of budget: traverse the ‘cool’ barrier with messaging that 20- and 30-somethings can get behind, like resistance, change and inclusion.
Want to learn more? Register for my webinar with Alex Tom, Head of the Canadian Fundraising & Marketing Unit at UNHCR, The UN Refugee Agency and Chris Carter, President at Candela Strategies.