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Nonprofit Marketing vs Social Marketing vs For-Profit Marketing Social Causes

I don't know why people think it's all the same. Let me explain why Center Theatre Group, #MeToo and Nike are not the same.

In tonight's nonprofit marketing class I had a heated debate about the difference between non-profit marketing, social marketing, for-profit social marketing, and movements. I was once again trying to explain that any marketing around a social cause is not "nonprofit marketing" as we were talking about the #MeToo movement. At this point I had to explain what a nonprofit was, and what a marketing campaign was.... this is week 8 (I am also not the teacher).

Several students in my class kept calling the #MeToo movement a "marketing campaign" and I kept saying that while it is an amazing movement, it is not a marketing campaign, but as no one in my class seemed to care to learn the difference, I thought I would share my thoughts below because it's important to me that you know this information. Not even as a marketing person, but as a person making informed decisions in the world.

Nonprofit Marketing

It's like marketing, but for nonprofits.

Just like with regular marketing, you have a goal and action items and something you are promoting. Most companies promote products, services, or events. Nonprofits also have products, services, or events. The main difference is that companies are trying to make a profit and nonprofits are well.... not. Instead they are trying to serve the community in some way, which can be a lot harder to sell than an iPhone. The hard part is a lot of the time the people who need the products or services can't afford them, so we have to find the money somewhere else (see: FUNDRAISING - which is different than marketing).

Example: Center Theatre Group is a nonprofit. Their mission (in summary) is to create create high quality theatre and arts education programs to build a better Los Angeles.

What they market: Their high quality theatre and arts education programs. While patrons have to buy tickets, they try to make theatre accessible to students and they have a lot of educational opportunities. They are a large organization, and have plenty of things to market, so they have a marketing team (and a completely different team for fundraising because those are two separate things!) This team has marketing plans, strategies, goals, ect, that align with their values as a nonprofit, but it is still marketing.

Social Marketing

Social Marketing uses marketing tactics to try and change society without promoting a product or service, but it still has a marketing plan.

Example: "It Can Wait" was trying to get millennials to not text and drive. This actually was not a nonprofit at all, but a marketing campaign by AT&T.

What they market: Instead of using marketing to convince people to buy cell phones, they were trying to get people to sign a pledge to promote safe driving.

They still had tangible goals, such as reach, views, and number of people that signed the pledge, and there is potential data to be gathered, like if there was a decrease in accidents due to texting and driving. Overall, they still had a plan, and while this could have increased cell-phone sales because people see that AT&T cares about road safety, that wasn't the goal of the campaign.

It's a marketing plan to change society, not marketing a service, product, or event. I use this example because this is the ad that convinced me to not text and drive because I really love Darren Criss and also told myself similar things about being "great at multitasking."

For-Profit Social Marketing

This is what really confuses people. To be clear, I am all for companies using their platforms and marketing strategies for social change, but they are not required to, and that does not make them non-profits or the experts on the issues.

Example: When Nike used Collin Kaepernick as the face of their marketing campaign, that was a calculated marketing move. They did their market research saw who was buying Nike products, who they wanted to buy Nike products, and analyzed what potential repercussions they might have. They saw a trend that aligned with their values as an company and went for it, and it paid off. This however, does not automatically make Nike the voice of the Black Lives Matter movement, and we should still give credit to those that brought the movement to life and how far we have to go to decrease police brutality in this country.

What they market: The difference between this and the "It Can Wait" campaign mentioned above is that this is still an ad for Nike products. It says nothing about Black Lives Matter or the movement that he was controversially promoting in the first place. While I absolutely love this ad and love that Collin Kaepernick is getting paid, this is not social marketing or nonprofit marketing, it's just good marketing.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, I will briefly talk about how Victoria's Secret recently said they don't care to be inclusive toward transgender or plus-sized models. At the end of the day they are an underwear company, not a nonprofit, and if their marketing plan is to keep doing what they've always done and continue to be exclusive, then that is their right to do so. It is also your right to be exclusive of the brands you buy, so if you don't like VS anymore because of this, don't buy their products, but they are not required to be inclusive, and that is their marketing plan. We will see how that plays out.

It is awesome when brands we like align with our political values, and it's hard when brands we like show that they don't. I already rarely shopped at VS and don't watch the VS fashion show, so it is not like I was their target audience anyway.


Last but not least, the hardest one to define. Movements. So let's start by saying what they are not. They are not marketing campaigns because there was not a marketing person within an organization that said "This is what the goals, action steps, and ROI is going to be on this." These movements have a life of their own, beyond any organization. And while they may turn into organizations, and the are definitely organized movements, the values, goals, and conversations around them are different. The #MeToo movement was started in 2006 "help survivors of sexual violence, particularly Black women and girls, and other young women of color from low wealth communities, find pathways to healing." It is often confused or considered synonymous with the Times Up Movement. These movements have bigger dreams and larger goals than can be put into a marketing plan, and to boil them down as a "marketing move" is demeaning to what they represent.

This is not an all encompassing definition of any of these. All of these could flow into each other, you might participate in an education program at CTG and then become a subscriber like I did. You might pledge to not text and drive and also buy an AT&T phone. You might protest the NFL, think Black Lives Matter, and already buy Nike products. Those things are possible, but the focus is on the intention of the marketing and what they are trying to accomplish.

At the end of the day, nonprofit marketing is just marketing for nonprofits. It's not that hard.


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