Big Data and the Illusion of Inclusion:
Is your non-profit reaching your desired audience?

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of attending the Spark’s mini-ad campaign case competition. In one hour we created and explained an ad campaign for Family Church’s clothing drive Kid2Kid Closet, a service asking for donated clothes to provide for children in need. However, the organizers of the drive had some issues that our team needed to address.

• They had excess inventory and felt that they could help more families, if only those families knew where and how to receive the clothing.
• They lacked the volunteers necessary to process and distribute the clothing, and finally
• They set up the clothing distribution location away from a bus-stop making it potentially inaccessible to families without vehicles.

Yet both teams worked diligently, creating a new strategy, online branding guide for social media, and a poster within the hour! Quite a feat for the short time provided.

Yet, a bigger question remained with me. Would the needed recipients of the clothing necessarily be located by social media? While most people contribute to the data economy through the use of their phones (and even Supreme Court said, “While individuals regularly leave their vehicles, they compulsively carry cell phones with them all the time.”—Carpenter v. US) not everyone uses cellular technology and these individuals may be missed in terms of economic needs and important policy decisions made based upon big data sources.

A Stanford Law Review Article by Jonas Lerman asks us to consider the following individual:

Now consider a second person. He lives two hours southwest of Manhattan, in Camden, New Jersey, America’s poorest city. He is underemployed, working part-time at a restaurant, paid under the table in cash. He has no cell phone, no computer, no cable. He rarely travels and has no passport, car, or GPS. He uses the Internet, but only at the local library on public terminals. When he rides the bus, he pays the fare in cash.

This certainly sounds like someone a non-profit would want to reach, but would be overlooked and unseen by any social media attempts to find him. Therefore hard physical advertising, networking, and word of mouth continue to be essential tools for seeking out Americans in need. Luckily both teams created some amazing posters! And while the competition was close, team two eked out a win, netting me my first advertising case competition win!