Insights
3 min Read
September 23, 2014

What’s the big idea? Exploring the value of a campaign concept

Campaigns surround us every day. There are campaigns to raise awareness about a product, to elect someone into office, to influence a new policy, to raise money, or to change perceptions about a certain issue or company. These days it’s nearly impossible to go anywhere without being bombarded with messages encouraging us to do something. Buy this! Try that! Vote for her! Donate here!

How can a nonprofit organization expect to create a campaign that stands out when there are so many campaigns—often backed by considerably larger budgets—happening on any given day? Often, a simple, memorable concept can be just the thing.

If you’re a New York City subway commuter, you’ve probably noticed the Airbnb ad campaign “New Yorkers agree. Airbnb is great for NYC.” plastered all over subway stations, featuring personal stories of hosts who benefit from the extra income of renting out their home. The campaign was rolled out at the same time that the company was in a legal conflict with the New York Attorney General. I can only hypothesize (since I don’t work for the company) that the goal of the campaign was to convince New Yorkers to believe that they are a valuable resource for the city, in the midst of opposing views from certain government institutions. 

“New Yorkers agree. Airbnb is great for NYC,” shows the power of a strong campaign concept—when you have a clear, simple, unified lens through which to tell your campaign story, it will make a memorable impression, and hopefully have the effect you want, like inspiring a donation or getting another vote. A concept name, unified visual look (fonts, colors, photos) and compelling, relevant messages (copy lines, call to actions, etc.) can tie the concept together, leaving your target audiences with a consistent impression. The best campaign concepts have “legs”—they can play out across different channels like email, direct mail, web, print ads, and social media.

Lets look at another example, just for fun:

The organization: The MTA. Campaign goal: Convince subway riders to be patient with construction and promise that their subway experience will get better with time by giving riders an “inside look” at the improvements being made. Campaign concept: “Improving, nonstop.” It’s a smart and simple concept. Who wouldn’t love a nonstop subway ride to their destination?  Who wouldn’t want a transit system that keeps getting better? The concept helps communicate a simple message to New Yorkers: please be patient, we’re working on it!

Coming up with a successful campaign concept for a nonprofit isn’t easy. You need to decide on a goal (like raising money) and a specific objective (say, $100,000 by the end of the calendar year), to identify your key audiences for the campaign (who are those people most likely to donate to your organization this year), and then to determine the core message or idea that will influence these people to support your campaign.

Big Duck has had the pleasure of working with Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy (PPMD) for a number of years on their annual fundraising campaign. A couple years ago, we created a concept for their campaign to demonstrate their leadership in the fight against Duchenne, and to inspire their supporters to keep believing and working towards a cure. We called the concept “It’s Possible” — a simple and powerful rallying cry for people impacted by the disorder. We carried out this concept across a number of channels—direct mail, an email series, social media, and their website. All the materials featured the campaign concept, while sharing real stories of people involved in the fight to help reinforce the message of possibility.

By no means should or could your campaign communicate everything about your organization. This is where we see a lot of nonprofits get stuck. Nonprofits often want to say everything they possibly can about how impressive their work is in a single campaign, rather than boiling it down to one or two compelling ideas.

Oftentimes nonprofits launch campaigns with very ambitious goals—like raising money or recruiting new participants for a program—but they miss an opportunity to use a clear, guiding campaign concept to shape the work. Without a defined concept, a campaign can leave audiences feeling uninspired, or unclear and confused about what they should think, or what action they should take. Even if all of the ideas in your campaign are strong, overwhelming the audience with too many unintegrated or visually disparate ideas will turn them off, and tune you out. 

And with that, I’m off to wait for the F train.

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