Not all advertising agencies are the same. There are some that shine above the rest, in large part because of the values that they incorporate into their work, and the organizations and companies that partner with.
In a sea of advertising companies, Boncom stands out, for various reasons. Highly capable and skilled at what they do, Boncom is a company that has decided to use the immense talents and skills of its employees to do good in the world.
Underpinning their philosophy is a positive view of human nature. Some people and organizations view fellow humans as beings to distrust or believe that they’re inherently bad. Not Boncom. They follow the Rousseau line of thought and believe that not only are people capable of doing good, but that they want to do good. It’s just that sometimes, people need a little bit of help. They need encouragement to move in the right direction. Once they’ve received that positive nudge, then the sky’s the limit. There’s no telling what a motivated individual who wants to improve the world can achieve.
So how does Boncom do this? By understanding people. Through their work, they’re able to push people not only to want to do good but to actually do it. They do this through various methods, many of which you’ll find being deployed in other advertising agencies, such as branding, behavioral psychology, and experience design. The key difference that sets the Utah-founded company apart is that they partner with purpose-driven companies and organizations, ones that try to do good in the world, but just which need a little help from the experts to maximize their impact.
From here, we’re going to take a look at a few Boncom projects that highlight the type of work that they’re engaged in.
Thinking About Others
It really is better to give than to receive. There have been multiple studies in recent years that have provided evidence for this claim. Perhaps because we’re social creatures, humans can elicit more joy from helping others, rather than from taking. This is a profound idea that should be more frequently discussed. It can, after all, change our fundamental idea of human nature. Are we selfish by nature, or is it just that we live in a system that pushes us to think in individualistic terms, rather than communal terms?
More evidence for the more favorable view of human nature was provided through the “Giving Machines” Boncom project. They say that humans are more likely to give if they have a more direct interaction with the issue at hand. Indeed, if they have any interaction at all. Part of the problem with television charity appeals (which are successful, just perhaps not as successful as they could be) is that the link between the donator and the helped is a bit remote.
Boncom’s appeal made it a little more direct. Their project worked like a regular vending machine. However, instead of entering money into the slot and waiting for a candy bar or soda drink to fall out of the bottom slot, something else happened. They would do good in the world. There was a range of items to buy, including first-aid kits, meals, shoes, and even livestock, which would then be distributed to people who need it the most through charities in the local area and across the world.
It all began in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 2017. From just one machine, more than $500,000 was raised, a phenomenal success. Following that success, the machine moved to other locations — five in total. The result? Millions of dollars in donations, for tens of thousands of people.
What Boncom showed is that people are naturally willing to donate and to help people, even people on the other side of the world. It’s just that they sometimes need a little bit of encouragement to do so. The older models of soliciting donations can still be effective, but it’s important to explore new ways too.
The world needs unity more than ever before. If we’re going to solve the problems that face people (and other things) across the globe, then we need to foster people’s empathy. On a daily basis, people don’t always have a chance to stretch their empathy muscles. Boncom’s innovative idea encouraged people to try something new and do good in the world — and while there’s no data for the individuals specifically involved in this initiative, it’s reasonable to assume that the “feel good” factor that experts link with selfless behavior had positive ripple effects in their lives — and thus the world.
Protecting the Environment
Everyone knows that climate change is a hot political topic. Indeed, it seems like everyone has an opinion, one way or another. This is an issue because it can be difficult to have real conversations about climate change without things descending into arguments.
This is the problem that faced the United Nations. They were trying to get their message out to the world but didn’t know how to do it. They had to present a series of problems that had to be tackled as part of the United Nations Foundation’s Sustainable Development Goals. But the issue is that people of different political leanings respond differently, depending on the language that is being used. Boncom stepped up to provide valuable information regarding which words people of different political leanings would respond to, using data-driven analysis. They found that there are multiple ways to say the same thing, and that certain groups will respond to one word in a positive way, but to a similar word in a negative way.
Their findings helped the UN to craft their messages. In an increasingly polarized world, it’s of great importance that leaders take care to use the correct words. Using one set of words can bring an audience into the conversation; another set of words can push them further away.
Boncom was able to shift through the contentious words and find a solution that would work for the intended group. It made ideas that the groups were already comfortable with, more palpable. There are times when we’ll always be on opposite sides, but there are many more instances when we’re all pulling in the same direction. When it comes to important issues such as how we’ll manage the effects of climate change, it’s critical that we’re working together as well as possible. For that to happen, it was necessary not to lose people through something as simple as the words being used. It’s all about finding common ground.
The automobile has done a lot of good for the world. But are cars perfect? No. Are they anywhere close to perfect? No. But can we push things forward so that they’re safer and closer to perfect than before? Absolutely.
Everyone must pass a test before they’re able to get behind the wheel, but the actual ability to drive is only one aspect of safe driving. The rest is understanding the dangers that lie around every corner and on every road. One of the biggest dangers is human error; it’s this that is responsible for the majority of accidents. Of course, there’s no way to completely eradicate mistakes — we wouldn’t be human if we do that.
But what we can do is educate people so they have a better understanding of the behaviors that are most likely to cause an accident on the road. The more people know, the less the risk. There are five behaviors in particular that have been highlighted as a major contributor to automobile accidents: distracted driving, unbuckled driving, drowsy driving, impaired driving, and aggressive driving.
Simply getting drivers to understand that these are things behaviors most likely to result in accidents will reduce the number of accidents. But it will help if you can go deeper and really get drivers to understand. Boncom’s solution? Talk directly to drivers, especially the ones who are more likely to be in an accident: high school students. They backed up this approach with advertisements on television, radio, and online, among other media.
Of course, it’s one thing to talk to high school students and others. It’s another to get them to understand and to engage with the broader point. To ensure the message got through, Boncom used stickers, slogans, hand gestures, and asked people to make a commitment — not just to keep themselves safe but also others in their community. Ultimately, this approach underlines Boncom’s core values: it’s all about community and helping each other.
If we take a look at the problems that affect the world, we’ll see that, as well as dealing with problems that have been around for a long time (such as mental health), we also have to deal with more modern problems that cause discontent in our communities. Some of these are obvious, such as, say, the use of smartphones while driving. Others catch us more off-guard.
In the latter category, we can place the rise of opioid abuse. This has been a significant problem for many years, but it’s only in recent times that we’ve begun to really understand just how widespread the issue is. There are people who have no history of substance, or even anything close to it, who have become hooked on opioids — and in many cases, through no fault of their own.
That, indeed, is part of the threat of the opioid crisis. Often, people are prescribed the drug for legitimate medical reasons. But then they become hooked — it’s just that they didn’t fully understand that they had become drug addicts, because they had been prescribed the pills by a doctor. To combat this issue, a strong and memorable campaign was needed.
Enter StoptheOpidemic.org. This was a campaign that Boncom used to raise awareness of prescription drugs. The campaign had two primary objectives. The first was alert people to the dangers of opioids. The other was to educate people about what they should do in the event of an overdose. The campaign used innovative techniques to get people to engage. First, they focused on real stories — stories of how people’s lives were ruined because of the drug. They also get the narrative as local as possible. People engage more when an issue impacts their own community, rather than people on the other side of the world. Particularly impactful were first-hand testimonials. In some cases, these testimonials gathered as many as three million views.
The campaign didn’t just get people to think about the opioid crisis in new ways. It also encouraged people to come together through the use of online forums where people could get further information and support.
With this campaign, Boncom showed that they’re not just adept at getting people to engage with a nationwide problem at a local level. They also showed sensitivity to a complicated issue. It’s not enough just to tell people that opioids are bad and that they should stop. That’s not how you get through to people with addiction. Instead, they educated the public about what to do in the event of an overdose. That’s practical, life-saving information that will have a real impact on a community.
Mental Health Help
You can’t also prevent people from experiencing sadness or other mental health conditions. But you can make it much more difficult for them to act on their impulses when they’re experiencing these emotions. In Utah, the leading cause of death for youth is suicide. One of the most effective ways to commit suicide is by using a gun, which is something that most teenagers do not have. But it’s possible that there’s a weapon in the home that belongs to one of the parents. If the weapon is not locked away safely, then a teenager’s impulse could lead to an act that would have devastating consequences.
To educate Utah parents on the importance of keeping their guns safely locked away, Boncom came up with a campaign that utilized the words of teenagers. One of the main issues when it comes to teen suicide, or attempted suicide, is that there’s a disconnect between the thoughts and feelings of the teenager and the understanding of parents. A study found that parents who thought their teenager was mentally healthy would be much less likely to lock up their weapons. However, the facts show that firearms are commonly used by teens attempting suicide.
This is because while suicide among adults may be a more thought-out, slower process, in teenagers, it’s the opposite: it’s often impulsive, often a response to a particularly strong emotional experience. Boncom’s approach was to let teenagers discuss the issue in their own words. In the videos, a select group of teenagers discussed life as an adolescent, as well as some of the unhealthy coping mechanisms that they used. The idea was that parents would understand that teen suicide is not a rational act; it’s an opportunistic one. Without easy access to a gun, the impulse might pass.
With this Boncom shows the dynamism of their approach to issues. There are times when facts and figures will help to get an important message across. But then there are other times when it’s sometimes better to let people discuss things in their own words. Teenagers are a group in society that is often ignored by adults; even when they’re expressing concerns, adults don’t always listen. Boncom put them front and center, to powerful effect.
Learning and Culture
What are the important things in the world? So far, we’ve looked at Boncom’s efforts to help keep people safe. But they also focus on other important missions, too, including learning and culture. There are few more important tasks than inspiring a love of learning in younger people. If you can instill a love of learning into a child at a young age, then they’ll carry it through with them for the rest of their lives.
We all know that a dinosaur is a wondrous beast, one that captures the imagination, and which elevates our thinking. But to get to that stage, first, you need to be given the spark that ignites your love affair with dinosaurs in the first place. When the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History wanted to raise awareness for the relaunch of their Deep Time Fossil Hal, they turned to Boncom for help.
It was all about building hype in the Washington D.C. area. Ads online, at bus stops, metro stations, and print ads in the newspapers were all launched for the exhibition, which had been in development for five years. The length of time meant that there was a new generation of young children who would have been two years old when it closed who were now in a position to enjoy the exhibition to the max.
Learning and a love of education are two of the best qualities that a person can have. Boncom was able to use designs and images that spoke directly to youngsters, and also their parents, in order to get them excited about learning.
Boncom has been involved in a wide range of projects that promote the values that we want not only for ourselves but also for the people around us. We all want to be more confident and happy with our lives, and we want our loved ones to have the same.
One of the ways Boncom pushes people towards this way of thinking is by challenging existing norms. There are phrases and common beliefs that people can internalize, to negative effect. For example, there are primary caregivers who say, “I’m just a mom.” Those few words may seem innocent enough, but dig a little deeper, and notice the impact that the word just has. It diminishes their role. It’s a sign of a lack of confidence. Yet these are the most important people in our society. There is no-one more important than the people who are raising the next generation. It’s important for us all to recognize this, including the mothers themselves. To get this message across, Boncom produced a “You Are Enough” Mother’s Day message, celebrating the role that moms provide — and letting them know in no uncertain terms just how important they are.
Elsewhere, Boncom put its powers to good use by producing a video aimed at people who were going through one of the most profound experiences that humans can experience: grief. This is an area that few people have the tools to deal with adequately, and friends lack the training to help. Boncom worked with a grief counselor to explore the stages and elements of grief, as well as providing useful tips on how to move forward.
We’ve taken a look at the details of Boncom’s individual projects, which are wide-ranging. But if you look at them as a collective body of work, you’ll see that there are themes that run throughout all of the projects, and ultimately, all that Boncom does. The driving force behind the company is a desire to not only do good in the world but to inspire other people and organizations to do good too. In an age when many companies are motivated by little more than self-interest, this is a wonderfully refreshing mission for an organization to have.
And it’s needed. The world faces a series of unique challenges, the likes of which we have never seen before. If we’re going to combat these problems, then we need unity. And we need leaders that can point us in the right direction. Boncom isn’t going to solve all of the world’s problems all on its own. But what it will do is to elevate a selection of companies, leaders, and the public so that they’re better equipped to overcome the challenges that we face.