Companies have long put images of celebrities on their products in order to sell more. The idea is that the celebrity has credibility with consumers and that by appearing on a product, the credibility gets transferred to the product. Companies like Procter & Gamble and Pepsi have become masters of “branding”: the art of giving meaning to products.
That’s why I was so amazed and interested to see our friend Kjerstin Erickson, the executive director of FORGE, on a bag of Doritos chips (a Pepsi product):
So here’s my question(s): Is Doritos using Kjerstin to sell chips? Is Kjerstin using Doritos to sell FORGE? Does it matter?
It seems to me that Doritos would never put someone on their bag of chips unless they thought doing so would sell more chips. I find it rather amazing (and wonderful) that Doritos marketing people (some of the top marketing people in the world) believe that associating themselves with the leader of a nonprofit startup can sell more chips.
I’m also impressed with Kjerstin’s savvy ability to leverage the power of Doritos marketing clout to “sell” her organization. As Nathaniel Whittemore points out today, the social sector has generally not been the best at branding:
A brand is about more than the logo. Brand is about how to distill complex concepts into associational chunks, and share with the world in the simplest terms the core of what we care about. Your organization’s brand is its DNA, a combination of description and inspiration that helps people identify your company or nonprofit as a fellow traveler…
The social sector has an incredible story to tell. In some way or form, every organization is imbued with a passion for a more equitable, just world. Every organization has programmed into its core the idea that the world can be a better place, and that problems created by people can also be fixed by people.
We live in a moment where people want that message. We want to believe in ourselves, and moreover, we want to believe in a more complex conception of ourselves. Big box brands and boutique brands aren’t going away, but in a world of such turmoil and instability, brands that make us feel anchored in values and connected to something bigger than ourselves are immensely important, and have the potential to keep the flame of entrepreneurship and justice alive in tough times.
Branding is about spreading an idea. It can be used to sell unhealthy snack food or it can be used to help African refugees. Quality products and services (both for-product and nonprofit) do not sell themselves. We need great products AND great stories is we want to have an impact.