Emotional Marketing: Did They Really Just Call It 'Sadvertising'?
Over my career, I have seen countless examples where nonprofits appear to be leading in particular strategies or techniques over commercial brands. And, of course, there are a lot of examples where nonprofits are lagging behind our commercial partners.
But based on the article I just read in Fast Company, "The Rise of Sadvertising: Why Brands Are Determined to Make You Cry," you would think emotional advertising is something new. I'm not making fun of the article — I actually found it very interesting — but I did find it humorous that this seems like something new when fundraisers have known this for a very long time.
Here's a quote from the article:
If you look at the current state of media, there's more value placed on 'meaningful' content — inspirational stories that you just have to see, or will change your world, and don't even ask what happens next because it will simply blow your mind or break your heart or take your breath away. The trend is most associated with Upworthy, the link-curation site that's mastered the art of sniffing out and disseminating the most profound, real, life-changing, and ultimately share-worthy content online.
The Upworthy effect can be added to another, larger cultural trend: the trend toward reality. The thirst for real stories has remade TV and now informs sharable online content. People like, and will share en masse, stories of real people doing really meaningful things that bring them to tears.
As someone who has been in the nonprofit marketing and fundraising arena for quite some time, this article was both funny to me and a bit concerning (once I stopped giggling). First, let's deal with what made this funny to me.
Funny: This is not new to us
Successful fundraising and nonprofit marketing have always been connected to the ability of a nonprofit to tie a mission, a request, a progress statement and other communication into an emotional, real-life story. This knowledge has been around so long I couldn't even find any recent test results in whitepapers or online — it's just been proved so many times already.
Relative to "sadness" (or sadvertising, as this article calls it), I would argue that this is also something fundraising colleagues have known for a while. But, it is very important for nonprofit marketing and fundraising to not only be about sadness.
There are many forms of emotions that are needed to build a relationship with someone around your mission. Showing the harsh realities of how lives are affected by a particular issue is critical, and yes, sometimes these are very sad stories. What nonprofit marketers and fundraisers know is that hiding from the pain, challenges or sadness related to their missions is not something that should happen. For people to truly understand the mission and make a decision about being involved (financially, as a volunteer, as an advocate, etc.), nonprofits must not sugarcoat the problem. Is there a limit to how much sadness and "fear" to use in your communication? Yes, because the biggest error you can make is to come across as "creating fear" or "creating sadness" when it is not warranted. It's important to stay honest, but creating an emotional reaction to your communication is absolutely necessary.
Using emotion within your marketing plan can come through in multiple ways. Yes, fear and sadness are common factors due to the nature of nonprofits and the challenges they represent across the globe in social issues, health issues, the environment, poverty, animals, etc. But don't forget about the fact that donors want to be a part of something grand and important (emotions: donor self-gratification, idealism) and donors want to feel appreciated and needed (emotions: recognition, importance).
The key is to strike the right combination of chords with your donor's emotions and drive the behavior and commitment you need to be successful with your mission. But before I close this post, let me also address the "concern" I had when I read this article.
Concern: Will this hurt us?
I don't have the answer to my question and would certainly welcome your opinions. But, if the commercial brands across most of the marketing world are now focused on emotional marketing and the concept of "sadvertising," will that hurt us?
Specifically, will consumers become a bit neutralized if the advertising for all types of brands from cars to detergent strive to create an emotional reaction?
Will the nonprofit message that strives for an emotional connection get lost?
What do you think?
Vice President, Strategy & Development
Eleventy Marketing Group
Angie is ridiculously passionate about EVERYTHING she’s involved in — including the future and success of our nonprofit industry.
Angie is a senior exec with 25 years of experience in direct and relationship marketing. She is a C-suite consultant with experience over the years at both nonprofits and agencies. She currently leads strategy and development for marketing intelligence agency Eleventy Marketing Group. Previously she has worked at the innovative startup DonorVoice and as general manager of Merkle’s Nonprofit Group, as well as serving as that firm’s CRM officer charged with driving change within the industry. She also spent more 14 years leading the marketing, fundraising and CRM areas for two nationwide charities, The Arthritis Foundation and the American Cancer Society. Angie is a thought leader in the industry and is frequent speaker at events, and author of articles and whitepapers on the nonprofit industry. She also has received recognition for innovation and influence over the years.