Nonprofit Branding: NPR’s Car Talk Demonstrates Piggyback Brand Enhancement….

While texting on his cell phone, a blazing idiot drove his truck into my friend and her 5-year old grandchild. His irresponsible act made me think about the campaign conducted by NPR’s Car Talk – a brand-enhancing experience I watched develop into a national movement. Before recounting the story I’ll give some quick examples of piggyback brand enhancement – a technique your nonprofit may want to use.

Start with the idea that every movement, every cause, every nonprofit has a brand of its own. A constituency has gathered around each brand. Now consider what can happen if two constituencies reinforce each other.

EXAMPLE: Thirty five years ago the Rochester, NY Philharmonic had fallen out of public favor. Attendance was down, once-successful mail solicitations were missing goals, acquisition mailings were unproductive. The orchestra, a legacy of Kodak’s founder, George Eastman, was the darling of Rochester’s upper crust. Its Board of Directors was baffled. What to do?

Then market surveys revealed the brand deficit – public indifference was caused by the accurate perception that the orchestra was an elitist outfit. (This WAS the anti-establishment Seventies!) One response to this problem was piggyback brand enhancement. An invitation was extended to local school districts to ship in busloads of students. Kids were allowed to attend the orchestra rehearsals from which the general public had always been barred. During breaks musicians chatted with children – and then sent them home with pamphlets about the Philharmonic. The symphony’s reputation (its brand) soared in the eyes of the once indifferent public. That was the result ot providing enrichment for the young customers of another brand the public regarded highly – local schools.

EXAMPLE: WCQS-FM (Public Radio for Western North Carolina) arranged this bilateral hook for an on-air fundraiser: If listeners raise $30,000 in a several hour period for WCQS, a group of people will contribute $30,000 to the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy and to the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy.

EXAMPLE: The University of Northern Colorado used its massive kitchens to build daily inventory for the Meals on Wheels program in Greeley, Colorado – preparing food for hundreds of daily meals at cost. To make sure the leaders and supporters of any number of public and private agencies took note, the administration made sure the packaging for each meal carried current information about the university and its participation in Meals ON Wheels.

From Curmudgeons to Prophets: At some initial risk, and without thinking about their self-interest, Car Talk’s Tom & Ray provide a good example. They became raucous missionaries – the first public figures to spotlight the danger of driving while using a cell phone. Their message reached millions of listeners and readers as they ranted on-air, online and in their newspaper column. The vitality of their messages delighted organizations concerned with public safety.

Not everybody was happy! Their new message ruffled some feathers.  Like a re-play of the old Seat Belt Wars, unyielding drivers rebuffed unwelcome logic. Resistance mounted. Car Talk’s Hate Mail Division worked overtime.

The brothers ignored the backlash and continued to spotlight the danger of driving while talking or texting on a cell phone. Over a year or more they fumed….while road carnage mounted and researchers scrambled. Then data began to validate their claim. Tom and Ray had been right all along. In fact, maybe they even underestimated the danger – some studies show that cell-phone driving may even be more dangerous than drunk driving!

As they have with so many other public safety concerns, Tom and Ray piggybacked their brand on a high-risk public issue and ultimately gained greater respect from their millions of fans and from all responsible drivers. This is one time they even pleased the insurance companies!

(Of course, the clown who was texting when he ran his truck into our friend and her grandson missed the message. The score from his irresponsibility: 2 legs broken on the 5-year old; one adult leg broken, PLUS 3 broken vertebra, 1 broken pelvis, 1 broken collarbone and several broken ribs.)

Your brand reflects the market’s attitude towards your mission and organization. A good brand generates warm fuzzies which marketers call brand-affinity. You can increase your affinity (and enhance your brand) by piggybacking  with the right organization or cause. Think of it as a form of branding symbiosis.

When that foolish driver caused so much tragedy for our friend I decided to write about how NPR’s Car Talk launched a campaign against distracted drivers – and inadvertently built a great example of piggyback branding. But there are many other examples. Reflect on them. Then develop your own initiatives. And let us know how your efforts at piggybacking your own brand turn out.

At this point piggyback brand enhancement has been covered. If you would like to keep reading, I do have two more things to offer. Both are great ammunition for water-cooler conversation, but only one is amusing.

  • First is an example of one distracted driver message Car Talk uses. Response from the audience and from public radio folks confirms my belief that is a funny and persuasive representation of the issue.
  • The second offer is a roster of two or three sentence factoids about driving while using a cell phone. Some were dug up by the Car Talk staff – primarily MIT and Harvard interns. Others were submitted by Car Talk listeners. Every one is interesting and important.

Study that message and you’ll see why it attracts attention. We imprint it on a T-shirt and on a mug we supply to your favorite public radio station and to Car Talk’s ecommerce store, the Shameless Commerce Division.

The mug is color-changing. So, when a hot beverage is inserted, the red text appears! Here is a JPEG of the color-changing mug with the distracted driving message:

Now for the roster of factoids about using a cell phone while driving. This is all important information, but I especially like the third one from the top!

Drivers talking on cell phones are 4 times more likely to cause a crash than drivers who are not using their phones. That means drivers using cell phones pose the same risk as drivers who are legally drunk.

Put down that phone and crack open a beer! Drivers who are sending text messages instead of talking are 8 times more likely to cause a crash. That’s twice the risk of a drunk driver.

(My favorite!) A small number of people are able to use the phone without impairing their driving ability. There is a simple question that will determine if you are one of those people. Question: Are you currently employed as a fighter pilot? If not, then hang up and drive!

The facts about texting while driving? Adults are guilty too. 34% of teens admit to texting while driving……… and 47% of adults confess to this unsafe practice.

90% of drivers think their driving skills are above average. That only happens in Lake Wobegon. In the rest of the country, 98% of drivers show impaired driving when using cell phones.

The National Safety Commission estimates that between 6000 and 10,000 fatalities are caused by drivers on cell phones each year. Put that in perspective – it’s at least 5 times the number of people who were killed in Hurricane Katrina and 3 times the number killed on September 11.  Imagine if a jet airliner crashed today killing everyone on board. Then imagine another one crashed tomorrow, and then another one each day for the next 3 weeks. That carnage would not quite equal the number of people killed by drivers using cell phones each year.

81 percent of the public admits to talking on a cell phone while driving, according to a Nationwide Insurance poll.

Most drivers think they’re great at multi-tasking and can safely use their phones while driving. Most drivers are deluding themselves. The odds you can safely use a cell phone while driving are about equal to the odds you will become the proud parents of twins, the odds you will receive a 100th birthday card, the odds you will receive a personal invitation to an IRS audit and the odds you can flip a nickel and have it come up heads six times in a row.



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