Ingrid Newkirk, president of PETA, said, “thinkers may prepare revolutions, but bandits must carry them out.” Her speech is often dripping with social movement metaphors – she clearly recognizes the importance of turning boardroom theory into action.
Since your brand is the personality of your organization, it’s that which is responsible for inspiring action. It cannot be merely an intellectual endeavor; it must be able to move people on the ground level.
For consumer brands, this simply means convincing people to buy products, but the cause world is more difficult. Indulgence is an easier sell than benevolence. Inherently, a non-profit’s ultimate goal is to start a social movement: getting people to come together to fight for a cause. But more often it’s the consumer brands that have defined cultures.
Which is easier to describe: a Harley owner or a YMCA volunteer? Is there a reason one has to be more distinct than the other?
Ingrid Newkirk would say no. In fact she’s built a powerful non-profit brand, rife with personality and culture. Whether you support their tactics or not, you could describe a PETA activist to a “t”… it probably involves a can of paint.
PETA has achieved social movement status (2 million members) because its brand incorporates all the critical aspects of social movements as discussed in my first post:
1. A common identity: It’s not merely belief in a common cause (that there are no dominant species) that brings PETA members together, but more so that they share core values or personality traits: veganism, extremism, and risk taking.
2. Rituals or codes: PETA members rally around a very clear credo of behavior: “direct action.” Defining a code of behavior is a natural way to build a culture around a cause, which social movements have used forever (for example see nonviolent resistance).
3. Social interaction: PETA has always forced word-of-mouth through controversial action. This ad is a perfect example.
Finding celebrities to support a cause is on every non-profit’s agenda, but PETA gets them naked. That is to say, they stay true to their brand, and infuse their ads with controversy. If a given celebrity won’t take the risk, then he/she wouldn’t fit the brand anyway.
PETA takes controversy to an extreme, but without a strong opinion people will have no reason to talk about your organization. Newkirk also said, “we’re the biggest group because we succeed in getting attention.” PETA didn’t start as the only animal cruelty group and they’re not the only one now, but they succeed to a higher degree because they create word-of-mouth. They use celebrities for good (Pam Anderson) and bad (Michael Vick) to force themselves into everyday culture.
4. Emblematic event: PETA emerged on the national scene in 1981 when they had a scientist arrested for experimenting on monkeys in a lab in Silver Spring, MD. The controversy ultimately ended up in the Supreme Court where an amendment to the animal welfare act was made. It was then that PETA’s culture of national attention and dedication to “direct action” were conceived.
5. Voice of leadership: Clearly Newkirk has worked hard to perpetuate the culture that has made PETA such a success.
If you can piece these elements together you stand an excellent chance of creating a brand that can truly move people on the ground level. For help taking your brand out of the boardroom and into the streets check out BRANDEMiX.