Merchants of Cool

The Wall Street Journal ran an article recently on how the government's successful Verb program will come to an end this month after five years.  A school-based program to promote exercise, Verb was a surprising hit with kids.

A recent study of more than 2,700 school kids published in the medical journal Pediatrics showed that 9 and 10 year-old kids who had seen the Verb campaign reported one-third more physical activity during their free time than kids who hadn't seen Verb.

So why was Verb so popular?  Hip ads probably helped.

The latest Verb ad campaign has the look and feel of slick ads from sports giants like Nike and Adidas. It focuses on the sounds of active physical play. It begins with a boy running, and then tunes into the beat of his feet against the bridge. Next it's the grunt of a kid hitting a tennis ball, the sounds of kids playing sandlot baseball shouting "hey batter, batter," kids cheering and the clack of the helmets at a pee wee football game, and the sounds of little girls playing "double Dutch" jump rope.

As did distributing hundreds of thousands of yellow Verb balls andVerb_ball launching a web site where kids could blog about what they did with the ball.

The fact that adults were generally unaware of Verb may also have enhanced its appeal with kids (and, ironically, contributed to the program's demise).

The iPod is another branding campaign that relies heavily on cool.  Brian Phipps writes,

As an identity enabler, the iPod delivers demonstrable coolness. The iPod includes iTunes, and with iTunes every iPod customer can create customized playlists for every mood and occasion. Yes, playlists are a creative act.

Successful brands like iPod and Verb are merchants of cool.  Cool people don't buy iPods.  iPods make people cool.  It releases the "creator and performer (the DJ)" within each of us.  Verb makes you cool because it breathes life into a new active identity that empowers kids to exercise.

It's hip to be cool.  So here are some ways you can inject cool into your organization, your cause marketing program and even your career as a professional.

Be a Winner.  People hate losers.  Supporters want to be associated with organizations they can thump their chest about.  Tell people what your organization is doing better than anyone else and how that makes you a leader in your industry.  I know an organization here in Boston that continues to great press despite teetering on bankruptcy.  Why?  Because they don't talk about what's wrong.  They talk about what's right and what they're doing really well.  You should too.

Be different.  99 percent of all nonprofits are spewing the same lines.  "What we do at XYZ is very special."  "A business like yours could do a lot for us."  Blah, Blah, Blah.  It makes me sick.  Pitch yourself as a nonprofit business consultant that helps hungry businesses make and save money.  Business people have heard the "mission" pitch a million times.  Talk to them about margin AND mission and you'll have their FULL attention. 

Start a blog.  It's been great for me.  Few people read blogs; most don't even know what a blog is.  But they've heard the word enough to know it's something new and cool that progressive, tech-savvy people are doing.  Who doesn't want to be seen as cutting-edge?

Act like a marketer.  Use case studies and present market research.  Dress the part of a top professional.  Have your clothes professionally tailored.  Wear flashy, expensive ties.  You're in marketing for cripes sakes!  But will you look too slick?  Not if you're sincere.  Besides, businesses are use to seeing "development professionals" on all fours.  They'll be be stunned to see one on his hind legs and dressed smartly.

Lastly, be a thought leader.  Follow the latest trends and ideas in philanthropy, cause marketing, advertising, psychology and other related fields.  Read my blog more, subscribe to my newsletter, read the articles I link to.  Not only will you come up with some really hip cause marketing programs, but people will think you really know your stuff--because you really will.

Hat Tip: Donor Power Blog