Here are two exceptional articles exploring how commercial advertisers are responding to the challenging task of selling during a severe economic downturn.

As they see it, given today’s consumer psychology, every offer must emphasize — in a word — value.

From the LA Times:

"’We’re moving toward an era of conscious consumption — just because I can afford to buy something doesn’t mean I’m going to buy it,’ said Mike Sheldon, president of ad agency Deutsch LA. ‘People are questioning their need to spend.’

Shoppers also respond well to ads about the environment, Sheldon said. Surveys that his agency conducted around the country found that people were trending from living in the moment to saving for the future, from ostentation to conservation, from quantity to quality. Consumers don’t want to buy things that they’ll have to throw out in a year or two, he said. They want things that will last, both to save money and to save the environment."

From the NY Times:

"As the economy rapidly deteriorates from flourishing to floundering, marketers are scrambling to remake their advertising so products seem affordable and sensible rather than indulgent and fabulous. For many big marketers, including automakers, retailers, consumer product companies and even financial services, a major shift in consumer psychology spells an end to the aspirational advertising that has dominated their campaigns for the last decade."

Both observations strike me as on target. And both underscore two big challenges for nonprofit marketers.

First, how does a nonprofit formulate a value proposition? Sure charities and causes are all about values. But here we’re talking about why my charity, working on issue X, is a "better buy" than yours, working on the same issue. Which offers the donor more value for their contribution. Tough times raise the ugly head of competition, even for nonprofits!

Second, aspirational messages are at the heart of nonprofit fundraising. In a new era of frugality, can (or should) nonprofits abandon "aspirational" messages? Personally, I don’t think that "aspirational" and "sensible" need to conflict. Donors will always be driven by the emotional impulse to improve or better the world, whether they see themselves as saving the planet or one person. That’s the aspirational side. But, referring back to the previous point, now perhaps they will be more "sensible" in evaluating competing strategies and track records for furthering their aspirational impulse.

Effective fundraising appeals are still there waiting to be crafted … but "crafted" is the operative word. In these times, slapping together "same old, same old" messages won’t get the job done.

Tom

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