Advertising and Social Impact

I always associated advertising with consumer products and services. When we went to Ghana, we advertised the grater we had created to benefit the health and income levels of women producing cassava. We used creative but low-cost methods such as agricultural shop-displays, word-of-mouth and radio-advertising as our main methods, after we researched about their purchase decision making process. Even though it was a product enhancing social impact, it was a consumer product and thus, advertising for it was quite traditional.

It was during my internship at Young and Rubicam that I leant how advertising could mean so much more in the social impact realm. First, I saw how advertising was geared towards donors instead of end-consumers for larger charity-based non-profit organizations. Second, I learnt how advertising for social impact ventures when done at a for-profit level could have a much broader impact than when done for non-profits, due to budget restrictions. While at Y&R, I worked on a children’s vaccination campaign for a large pharmaceutical company. Even though it was meant to create a social impact by having healthier and immune babies, the company itself was a for-profit venture, making it much easier for them to meet the high budget requirements of the campaign. The higher budget also led to a wider channel of advertising and more awareness creation. Thus, I learnt how social impact causes can have much higher awareness raised when they are for-profit due to budget restrictions. Of course there are exceptions to that general observation. For example, the ALS ice bucket challenge helped increase awareness and donations by an almost no-cost solution that went viral within days! The challenge became an advertisement geared towards donors, without them even realizing that they were part of the advertisement. Traditionally, customer input was utilized in new advertisements. However, now, customers themselves have become part of the advertisement. Customer reviews, online opinions, testimonials and participation in social media by sharing, liking or commenting on products, all have become sources of advertising. While many for-profit consumer product ventures tap into the new low-cost but effective social media platform, I believe that non-profit social impact firms could also gain much higher rates of success, if they involve themselves in some form of social media participation, and making consumers part of their advertising process.

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