Provocative Cause Programs

In “Shock and Awe Makes an Impression,” The Nonprofit Times highlights a handful of cause-related awareness campaigns that have employed edgy messages to break through the clutter. Organizations such as the United Way of Greater Milwaukee and the Montana Meth Project are startling their audiences into attention with thought-provoking campaigns; however, several other recent news items indicate that provocative campaigns do not always make the right impression.

Cause marketing blogger Paul Jones shared his disdain in a recent post over two breast cancer-related cause programs whose “decidedly mischievous approach” struck him as slightly distasteful.  In July, a Virgin Mobile campaign, “Strip2Clothe,” drew suchheat that the company, known for its unconventional messages, revised the program to the somewhat more awkward “Blank2Clothe” to appease critics.  Most recently, The Chronicle of Philanthropy discussed a breast cancer charity TV ad which is making some viewers “uneasy,” while others find it “tasteless.”   

If these accounts are any indication, there is a very delicate line between being original and being offensive.  Organizations must weigh the costs and benefits of embarking on such a program and carefully consider the audience they want to reach, the people they intend to serve, the nature of the issue and existing messages and sentiment within the marketplace.  Yet, there is something to be said for emboldened organizations that push boundaries.  Although provocative campaigns and messages naturally come with risk, the greatest threat often lies in not breaking through at all.   


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