Can a marketing campaign serve a purpose beyond selling products or services? Can your content marketing tell a story that captivates people and makes them change how they act?
Marketing isn’t just about selling products and services. It may seem like that when you look at the majority of marketing out there. But, in truth, good marketing tells a story, captivates and gets people to change.
An Act of Defiance
The Boston Tea Party. The act of revolt that helped spark a revolution. Yes, it was a protest, but it was also a very effective marketing move. And it’s perhaps the greatest example of how powerful good marketing can be – it helped ignite a rebellion and give birth to a new (and one day powerful) nation.
In 1773, the East India Company, Britain’s government-sponsored trading company, was struggling. To help the company, Britain adjusted import duties in the American Colonies (the Tea Act of 1773).
Merchants in Charleston, New York and Philadelphia refused to accept tea shipments from Britain, but the merchants in Boston did. As an act of defiance, Samuel Adams’ Sons of Liberty boarded ships in Boston Harbor and dumped a load of tea overboard.
According to History.com, it took 100 Sons of Liberty about three hours to throw 342 chests of tea into the water – over 90,000 pounds of tea at an estimated value of $1,000,000 in today’s money.
Needless to say, Britain wasn’t too happy about the protest. The Empire responded with the Coercive Acts of 1774. That act pushed the American Colonies and Britain much closer to war.
A Righteous Mission
Martin Luther King’s Civil Rights movement in the 1960s carried great weight behind it. At its heart was the right of all Americans, regardless of race, to enjoy the same level of freedom and respect. But it was also a great marketing campaign.
The struggle for equal rights for all races and genders in America goes back to the very founding of the nation. It led to the Civil War in the 1860s and continued on another 100 years before finally succeeding.
While there were many advocates in that time – Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, Booker T. Washington and many others – it was Martin Luther King and his followers who were able to finally break through.
They did it through an organized marketing campaign that advocated peaceful, lawful means and rested firmly on the foundation of Martin Luther King’s great messaging.
Every PR pro knows that good speechwriting and delivery are essential tools to a successful campaign, and few would argue that they have ever been better used than in Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 civil rights campaign – which is to say nothing of this great man’s letter-writing skills, lobbying, or ability to stage effective nonviolent protests. King proved that powerful words and persuasive grassroots campaigning can turn a powerful idea into a reality.
A Universal Entreaty
Just Do It. Everyone knows what this is – Nike’s campaign against the procrastination and lethargy that exists in all human beings.
There’s a theory about this lethargy – that humans have an innate drive to conserve energy built into our DNA.
According to the Running Man Theory of Evolution, humans evolved as persistence hunters. In a persistence hunt, a group of humans will track and run after a gazelle or what-have-you – an animal that is much faster than a human in a sprint but slower in a long-distance race.
(All four-legged animals are slower than humans in a long-distance race, actually. Don’t believe it? Google the Western States 100 race, which was a horse race until humans started running it alongside horses…and beating them.)
Because of some very specialized adaptations in humans, we’re able to run longer distances faster than four-legged animals. Most notable is our cooling and air intake system, which isn’t tied to our locomotion.
(Picture a cheetah running – legs outstretched, then inward, then outstretched. The inward motion causes the cheetah’s internal organs to propel the air out of its lungs like a squeaky toy. Their breathing is tied directly to their stride…one breath per step. It can only take in so much oxygen while running.
Also, cheetahs and other four-legged animals don’t sweat like humans do. It’s why a dog will stop walking and sit down and pant on a hot day. It can’t keep moving and also keep cooling itself at the same time. Meanwhile, humans can sweat and breathe enough to cool ourselves while still moving.)
In any case, because we evolved as runners, there’s some code in our DNA that’s constantly telling us to conserve energy, to take it easy. Hence our reticence to get off the couch and go to the gym.
Nike’s Just Do It campaign is brilliant because it touches on something that everyone from couch potatoes to ultra marathoners experience – the desire to stay where we are and not do what we’re supposed to do.
And the campaign has connected with consumers because of its universality, its empathy and its no-nonsense simplicity. It says: yeah, we know you don’t feel like it, but deep down you really do want to, so just get over the lethargy and do it already.
Marketing Can Create Change
Marketing can do much more than hock goods and services. At its best, it can be powerful enough to change the way people think and act.
Did the Sons of Liberty think they were pulling a marketing stunt when they were dumping tea into the Boston Harbor? Maybe not. Did the college students who sat-in at a lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1960 realize they were doing marketing? Maybe not.
But they were. Very successful marketing, in fact.