In just a few days, one of the most highly anticipated biopics of the year will be released nationally. Straight Outta Compton, which documents the rise and ensuing events of the rap group N.W.A, is not only being lauded for the compelling offering that director F. Gary Gray crafts, but also a very clever use of a little thing known as a meme, which is promoting the film like crazy.
Universal Studios, via an app download, has leveraged fan interest by enabling individuals to adapt the last line of Straight Outta to whatever one wants. The options range from various hometowns to clever commentary on some of the latest events in our culture. Even celebrities like Jennifer Lopez and ?uestlove of The Roots are in on the trend.
But when the idea was initially hatched, who would have thought that there would be a social good element to this phenomenon?
Enter Brian Reich. Firmly placed in both the philanthropy and pop-culture worlds, Reich is project director at the Hive, a special project of USA for UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees). He decided to risk a departure from what might be considered standard, approved outreach approaches.
“I make it a point to watch/study what is happening in other sectors—especially sports, media, and entertainment. So I first saw Straight Outta mentioned in multiple places, and I knew it had massive potential for our work,” Reich says.
“The issue of the refugee crisis is ultimately about people being forced to flee from their homes because of violence and persecution, so the idea of identity, of where someone lives—and how that defines their status—is top of mind. The whole idea of Straight Outta Compton is based on the same. Being from Compton is part of N.W.A’s identity. And being able to say you are ‘straight outta ________’ makes that true for anyone. So, I wanted to see how we could mash up those ideas of identity and tap into what I expected would be a heavily discussed, analyzed, and interesting meme.”
And it worked. The meme is driving awareness around refugee flight issues—everything from health care to economics. Through a pop culture meme, young people are learning about the refugee crisis and are now curious about the long tail.
Some say that only innovation like this will help nonprofits get onto the millennial radar; this demographic is the main focus of many organizations within the philanthropic arena. Why? According to Accenture’s report on the “Greater Wealth Transfer,” millennials are expected to be the core beneficiaries of a coming $30 trillion transfer between generations (not to mention those who are self-made millionaires), and this will have a profound impact on philanthropy. Financial strength mixed with a new mind-set that demonstrates little trust in authority, great power across technology platforms, and sensitivity to social injustice, makes for a large grouping of individuals who are open to supporting good causes.
Indeed, Bill Strauss, an executive producer of Straight Outta Compton, told The Daily Beast, “The meme is brilliant and a fantastic way to tie old fans and new fans into the film. The ‘Straight Outta’ works for everyone and makes everyone feel included and proud. The fact that it is now moving into a realm to bring greater awareness to social issues just takes it to a completely new level.”
The reverberation is being felt across the public sector. “If 72 percent of giving is done by individuals,” explains Amy DeVita, COO of Third Sector Today, an information aggregator for nonprofits, “why would we insist on keeping the worlds of popular culture and social good separate anyway? It’s a new day! I’ve seen the ‘Straight Outta’ meme all through my newsfeed lately—with everyone changing it to indicate their hometowns. But in the case of them being applied by certain philanthropic organizations, I think the meme serves as a great example of real-time marketing. In other words, spotting something that is blowing up and finding a way to connect with it—and connect with a larger audience because of its mass appeal. Watch for more of this.”
Indeed, the meme approach could be indicative of a larger trend for social issues, health care, and more. In an era where the average individual is bombarded by massive numbers of information and images, and where nearly everything is competing with Kim Kardashian’s butt, forward-thinking nonprofits—particularly those targeting millennials—are departing from stagnant old methods and carving out new ones that are much more in sync with the lifestyle of today’s socially minded American.
According to Reich, “The Hive is designed to crack the code. This is not about promoting just the refugee issue, though that is the focus because it was launched by UNHCR. We are trying to completely re-wire the whole approach to engagement around serious issues.”
Looks like N.W.A is still the impetus behind social change and awareness even after nearly 20 years.