#INTERVIEW: Mark Van Gurp, Osocio Blog — Showcases the Best Advertising & Marketing For Social Causes

Marc Van Gurp PhotoMark van Gurp is the founder of Osocio, an international blog devoted to showcasing the best advertising and marketing for social causes. Mark began an earlier blog, Houtlist, in 2005 as a personal collection of nonprofit ads. Overwhelmed by the response, he began Osocio in 2007 with more than a dozen regular contributors. He has kept his day job. The interview was conducted by Don Akchin, a principal of Nonprofit Marketing 360 and a frequent contributor to the MKCREATIVE blog.

MKC: Can you explain what you do in your day job?

MARK: I’m webmaster and web designer for a big publishing house. At the unit I’m working for, we write about advertising and marketing. It is like Ad Age.

MKC: What first inspired you to curate nonprofit advertising and create Houtlust?

MARK: It was a coincidence. I was thinking about working as a freelance designer. And because I’m interested in designing for non-profits, I started collecting inspirational examples in the field. Those were the days before Pinterest and other networks, so I started a blog just for myself. It was my online album accessible from anywhere.

MKC:  Osocio seems to be so much larger than a “hobby” or a spare time interest. How do you manage it and still keep a job?

MARK: It is a daily struggle. It is not only the job that matters. It is also family life, which I like very much. It is one of the reasons I made Osocio a group blog.

Osocio isn’t a profit thing for us. It costs us almost nothing and we earn almost nothing. We have no commercial obligations. No spare time means no blog post.

MKC: Are there special challenges in advertising for social change that don’t occur in commercial advertising?

MARK: It is the human factor. Advertising for social change is about real world’s and real people’s issues. It isn’t about an imaginary world. It is about you and me. That doesn’t mean that cause advertising can’t be abstract. There’s a big difference between American and European/Asian cause advertising.

MKC:  In a blog post last year under the Academy section, you observed that Osocio judges ads on copy or design, not on results. One U.S. blogger, Jeff Brooks, is known for ranting about “Stupid Nonprofit Advertising” that wins awards but does nothing for the nonprofit client.  Does he have a point?  

MARK: Of course. We said the same in our own campaign in 2009: “Awards can’t feed the hungry“.

The result is the most important key factor. That key factor depends on design, copy and strategy. We write mostly how design, copy and ethical approach can influence the final result.

We started the Academy section because we wanted to write more in depth on this subject. Which is a tough job. The result of a fundraising campaign is easy to measure. An awareness campaign is a totally different story. The metrics are much more abstract, and far more expensive to obtain. The majority of NGOs can’t afford this.

And most NGOs aren’t very transparent about this. One of our first posts in the Academy section was about transparency: “The campaign evaluation is also something to share“.

MKC: Are you seeing any trends in nonprofit advertising?  Where do you think it’s going?

MARK: There are a few things that stand out.

The most predictable trend is the use of online and social media in strategy. It is a perfect tool for NGOs, charities and grassroots. It is easy to access, low-cost and democratic.

The quality of design has become outstanding in the last year. We noticed that in our Campaign of the Year election. We had a tough job making the final shortlist. There was so much good work to show.

Most remarkable is the globalization because of online media. Campaigns that are meant to be regional can strike worldwide. See the Arab revolution and the Occupy movement.

I predict that this will result in a more global communication language within two decades.

MKC: What is your all-time favorite campaign?

MARK: I have a few but there’s is one from the beginning of my blog career which I will never forget. It is a campaign from Amnesty Poland about the lack of freedom in Belarus, the country of President Lukashenko, and is called “The last dictator of Europe.”

Human rights is a subject that is very close to me, but what I really like about this campaign is the visual language. A portrait and Duct tape tells the whole story. The visual aspect is my personal interest, communicating with just one key image.

“A picture is worth a thousand words” is an old cliché which is still very valuable for me. You can see the campaign here with a few others I like here.

You can follow Marc at the Osocio blog or on Twitter.

Guest blogger Don Akchin writes frequently about marketing and philanthropy at

This interview series is produced with the generous support of the Nonprofit Marketing and Fundraising Zone.

Copyright, MKCREATIVE, LLC 2012. All rights reserved.

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