7 marketing lessons from the egyptian uprising

You might have heard – Egypt is having an uprising.

And rumour has is that it’s all because of this one video recorded by Asmaa Mahfouz.

Asmaa is a woman so tired of injustice and the lack of basic human rights in Egypt.

In his book “The Soul of a Citizen” Paul Rogat Loeb argues that social uprisings are never about one person.

Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. came out of social movements and were supported by them. The story of these people creating the movement is just that – a story. And I suspect that this is true in Egypt. There are likely circles within circles that we can’t even begin to understand from outside the of that region.

But sometimes years of community building, coalition building and education can be sparked into flame by unexpected things.

So . . . here’s the video that’s being credited with starting the uprising we are witnessing today. Here’s the spark.

And it has some powerful things to say about marketing I want to lift up.

Because marketing can be terrible – it can be gross, contrived, exploitative and leave people with less self esteem than they had when they turned on the TV. But, at its heart it can also be a beautiful and uplifting thing. It can be about ‘getting the word out’ about positive things. It’s about communicating our messages clearly. It’s about getting people to change their habits that our destroying the world. Marketing can be an art and as Ton! Cade Bambara said, “The goal of the revolutionary artist is to make revolution irresistible.”

I believe that all of the solutions to our environmental and social justice problems in the world exist already – but if no one knows about them – functionally they don’t exist. And getting people to hear about them – and be willing to try them out is, I would suggest, a marketing issue.

Imagine a world in which strawbale homes, permaculture design, holistic health and local, organic food were normal. Marketing should be about making good things seem normal – not the about making the status quo seem good.

This world requires us to speak up and be ‘out’ about what we’re doing.

Here’s a disturbing thought: what if Asmaa has never done this video? What if she’d been to shy or scared? What if she’d never tossed out that spark? Do you see how different the world could have been?

And what if your work is this kind of a spark for another community. Perhaps not as dramatically. Perhaps not with as much global attention. But if you have a spark in your hand and you don’t give it to the world – there are many others who won’t move. Asmaa threw her spark. Millions moved. What we give to the world not only sets us free but can set them free as well.

Seven Marketing Lessons from the Egyptian Uprising

Lesson #1: Social Media is Powerful – The Egyptian government cut access to facebook very early in the uprising – because they saw what it could do. These days, when something strikes a chord, it is spread fast. And this is how word of mouth works with everything – business, personal or activism. People talk to each other and spread gossip.

Social media has given us a more powerful platform to do this. When this video hit, it was spread fast. All over Egypt. And it had an impact.

If your business, NGO or cause isn’t engaging deeply in social media – you may be missing out. You may be making it very hard for people to spread the word about what you do. Facebook events, online video, blog posts, tweets etc. are all incredibly easy for people to share with others. Make the good things you’re doing easy to share too.

Lesson #2: Speak to the Why – More powerful than her just talking about WHAT she is doing and HOW – she focuses on the WHY she is doing it. And repeats that again and again. When you can clearly articulate the why and uncover the point of view behind what you’re doing you will reach people in ways you never thought possible before.

Lesson #3: Be RealThis is a crap quality video. Let’s be real about that. It breaks all the rules of good online video. The lighting is okay, the quality is bad, she’s against a wall. Meh. Sometimes ‘high production values’ can actually hurt you. Don’t believe me? Imagine this same video being done Hollywood style – with her in make up, special effects etc. Don’t you feel how much less powerful that would be than he just sitting down and speaking from her heart with the web cam she has?

And she’s real about how she sees the situation. She calls her government and the security forces out as corrupt. Most entrepreneurs are terrified of taking that kind of stand – about anything. She’s 100% authentic.

Michael Drew (who’s put 67 out of 67 books he’s worked with on the NYT best seller list) argues that we are no longer in an economy that wants hype – we’re in a civic cycle that wants (and craves) people to be real with them.

Lesson #4: Speak to People’s Values – Ask yourself, ‘what’s most important to me and my crowd?’ Notice her appeal to men’s honour and dignity. Her appeal to have them come and protect her, ‘if you’re really a man’. She speaks to what matters most to them as people. She appeals to their values and gives them (fiercely) a chance to step into an even deeper integrity.

Lesson #5: Ask for Something – So many ads don’t make an offer. So many fundraisers don’t ask for the money. And here Asmaa is beautifully, shamelessly and powerfully asking them to come out on January 25th. She must repeat it a dozen times. She’s not coy about it. She’s to the point. She repeats it. Again and again. And then she ends with it.

If we want to change the world – we need to start asking. We need to not only start asking – but start asking big. We’ve gone far beyond the point of trying to lead a horse to the water to get him to drink – we’re now faced with the epic task of trying to lead entire herds of horses to the water.

Just educating people is not enough. Just speaking passionately about issues is not enough. We need to ask. We need to give people simple things they can start with. And how simple is her ask? Come join her protest. It’s not without risk – but it’s simple. It’s focused.

Lesson #6: She Voices Their Thoughts – She’s real with people about what else they might do and reminds them that those aren’t options. “Want to stay at home and watch this on the news?” she says. And you just KNOW that most of the people watching were thinking that. “Don’t think you’ll make a difference?” Any good copywriter will do this when they write an ad. They anticipate people’s concerns and speak to them directly. A good sales letter will read more like a conversation. A good author will do the same thing. It’s a more gracious and effective way of communicating to acknowledge you’re not speaking to a void. What are your people afraid of? What might stop them from doing something that could not only help them – but their community? Speak to that. People need reassurance that they will be safe – or at least that staying where they are is less safe than moving.

“And the day came when the risk to remain in the bud was more painful than the risk it took to bloom.”

– Anais Nin

Lesson #7: Tell a Story She starts this video off with a story of the last protest they did and how only three others came. She’s real about it. And the story is engaging. We need to get better at story telling. When people get passionate they tend to rant and lecture. But we need to tell stories that speak to people’s hearts.  That help them get back in touch with what’s most important and dear to them.

Asmaa Mahfouz recorded and posted this vlog on January 26th, after an eventful Tuesday on January 25th, the first day of the revolution. She describes what she saw and urges people to continue and join her after Friday prayers, on January 28th.

What other lessons do you think we can all learn from this?


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About Tad

  • 3:10 ; “sitting at home and just following us on facebook leads to our humiliation”

    social media may be powerful, but it can also lead to illusory solidarity.
    liking a thing on facebook or following a group on twitter is not the same as showing up.
    showing up is the win you are looking for, not the number of likes or follows on the internets.


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  • DYLAN – I’m totally with you. Which is why I think her ask is so powerful. Facebook is useless unless it leads to real change. The armchair activists will not be saving the world anytime soon.

  • Wow! Thank you Tad. I had not seen these videos before. After watching this, I feel like I want to go and join her! She wears her heart and passion on her sleeve, which speaks to the heart of anyone watching.

  • Gennie

    Here’s why I will say Tad Hargrave is a genius: because he understands that effective marketing is ESSENTIAL for changing the world. You and I have tremendous gifts – gifts that can create a rocking world, where everyone is valued and gets to be an integral part of the community, gifts that can restore the world back to balance and wholeness. Let’s take up Tad’s challenge and truly learn the lessons from the egyptian uprising. Let’s really get rocking with our own gifts and be stimulated, strengthened and inspired by each others gifts, and effectively employ these seven basic concepts.

  • GENNIE – You’re so kind. And yes – I love the idea of a world of people emboldened to speak up for their gifts and share them with the world.

  • Hey, I notice you keep sharing the link to this, so it must be important to you :) (and so I thought I’d read and comment).

    I like when you said, “But if you have a spark in your hand and you don’t give it to the world – there are many others who won’t move.” Made me feel even stronger that any lovely parts of myself I haven’t been shining brightly, I need to just go for it because I may be impressed with the consequences.

    I have to sit with the thought of asking something of people, and what that might look like for me. I’m quite diplomatic and non-imposing inside, so this thought pushes me a bit.

  • KIM – So glad you liked it. I keep being struck by the larger ripples of small actions. And the importance of following our inspiration.

  • motaz from cairo

    tad, thank you so much for putting this up. i could not agree more with what you said. i just want to underline two of the themes you pointed out: asmaa’s realness and her courage. over the past ten days, people’s realness and their courage has been overwhelming and exhilarating. there has been an amazing coming of age, of mass, deep awareness of who we are, where we are, how we can be together and of how deeply we care for it all. thanks again tad. i write this having just returned from tahrir, which, tonight was a jubilant mighty sea of people. but it’s still not at all over. do keep us in your prayers. much love.


  • MOTAZ – So wonderful to hear a little bit from you there in Cairo. I am so impossibly happy for what’s happening. A beautiful, scary and transformative road. So many people must have waited their entire lives for just this moment. If you have any ideas of ways people can support the work happening there, donate to legal defense funds or get the right word out – let us know your thoughts.

  • Without knowing what was happening in Cairo, my wife, Ann, and I were busily creating our own video series, “A Life that Matters,” because we see so many people who are struggling right now, wanting to live a life that truly does matter but who have gotten caught up in fear, stress, and overwhelm of life. Has it made the same impact as Asmaa? No, but it’s our effort to share a possibility with the world — that of living a life on purpose.

    As others have said, we all have a spark within us, and more and more we now have the means to share those sparks and what we’re most passionate about throughout the world. Ann and I live in the small village of Flat Rock NC, which is as small as it sounds, yet we’ve been able to touch lives around the globe for the past 16 years. It’s not always been easy, but it wouldn’t have been possible without the internet.

    So, yes, share your spark from the heart. Give it your best shot. We did and we’ll continue to do so. BTW, here’s the link to the video series http://www.lifeonpurpose.com/lifematters . Lesson #5 – ask for something. I ask and invite you to take a look and if it resonates with your heart, to share the series with others. It’s time for us all to create a world on purpose.

  • BRAD – I love it. You might also want to check out http://www.bigdreamprogram.com – I think you two could be great supports to each other. Yay for collaboration.

  • This is an awesome read Tad.

    Thank you for posting such a powerful blog, your lessons are packed with wisdom – we will use your steps when we develop our video promoting our services at The Aletheia Group.

    And May God Bless -Asmaa Mahfouz – A courageous woman!



  • Arno

    nothing to add. thanks tad for posting these videos. Very very powerful. Woodstock in Egypt, 2011, was started by Asmaa, her courage, her passion, her love, her brilliance. thank you Asmaa for awakening us, thank you Tad for letting us know about Asmaa. arno

  • FILOMENA – Thank you so much for your kind words. Best of wishes to your Alethaia work.

  • Spike Lomibao

    my dear tad. while i haven’t been so directly in touch with you since we met at sf green festival many years ago, know that i still follow you and very much appreciate what you do. and how you do it.

    this blog entry is very typical: it speaks to your relentless will to promote the common good, without a hint of expectation of personal gain. you are a great storyteller, often highlighting one person’s story to excite others to tell their own. your gift of keeping your stories relevant is also key.

    we learn here that asmaa is not asking for much. just basic human rights. many of us have been so brainwashed, we don’t know what we deserve anymore. these fundamental needs apply to all. ideally, we are one people. sound trite? well imagine a world without egos or enemies. hmm. there would then be no question that we have our needs met. not to mention how much further we’d be on this road of progress we’re on.

    so i salute you on your continued generosity in sharing your experience and expertise with us all. you constantly encourage creative thinking and community. i’m doubtful you would ever, since i think you are one of the most positive people i’ve met, but if you ever say to yourself “why am i doing this?”… know that there are some of us out there on whom you’ve made an lasting impression, and it has created a ripple, whether it’s obvious to you or not.

    the ask: could you please never stop being you?

  • Hi Tad,

    I love this post; you powerfully remind us the power of integrity to reach inside us and compel us into action, regardless our culture…

    Asmaa is the voice in ALL of us that’s had ENOUGH of ‘Big Government/Big Business”s agendas…

    The revolution in Egypt is the struggle within us all… it highlights our solidarity on the path to conscious sovereignty, which this revolution is all about…

    Just published a blog post @ how we help Egypt as we free ourselves… http://www.ajoyfulnature.com/1069/egypt-is-our-soul-mubarak-is-our-ego-the-evolution-of-the-revolution-is-within/

    We are becoming more conscious as a species, and our ‘individual’ thoughts and actions affect the whole on a quantum/political/economical level. The peace we seek in Egypt is ours for the creating!

  • SPIKE – you made my day.

  • My favorite line from this post is when you reclaim marketing: “…at its heart it can also be a beautiful and uplifting thing. It can be about ‘getting the word out’ about positive things. It’s about communicating our messages clearly. It’s about getting people to change their habits that our destroying the world. Marketing can be an art and as Ton! Cade Bambara said, “The goal of the revolutionary artist is to make revolution irresistible.”

    If your goal is to change the world, and you’re still feeling ashamed about promoting, getting the word out, and marketing…. get over it. The key is to make your mission more important than your fear of looking bad or being rejected.

    Good work Tad. Your relentless efforts to empower us change-makers to embrace marketing are deeply appreciated.

  • eilelaen

    All I know is her video brought tears to me and opened my heart and inspired me. I felt the touch of real, authentic Life. One of the most stirring beautiful things I have seen in some time.

  • JOE – I love it. Yes. As within. So without.

  • So glad you wrote it out like this, brother. Really beautiful post- and thanks for pointing me to the video- I’d missed it!

  • MARK – thanks. And yes – hooray for people pointing me to things I really should have seen on my own :-P

  • Theresa Thomas

    Dear Tad,
    thank you for sharing all of this – I was amazed?? inspired/uplifted by Asmaa’s commitment and the power it has had to bring people out.
    The Rosa Parks of Egypt – and we need more people to speak up in a meaningful way – for peace, green, harmony.
    I also watched TED – and laughed through the explanation of the combo Shreddies pack – diamond + square!
    and stayed watching for the ad at the end supporting charging car owners for using cars in urban settings – again, very inspiring.

    Thanks for bringing me up to speed!

  • THERESA – Thanks for popping by!

  • Love the post for so many reasons…Not only the marketing insights, but what this points to in the larger context of creating social change. Social media is not just fluff, but an amazing tool! Hope you don’t mind, but I am linking my blog to this post! Nice work!

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  • Sandy

    Wow. You quoted “Soul of a Citizen”… a book I love but seems nobody has heard of. He’s so inspiring, and so is this blog! Thanks!

  • SANDY – Thank you for your words :-)

  • Jackie

    Thanks, Tad. This is something I would have been very sad to miss, and I would have missed it without your posting. I can’t watch or listen to news and stay focused on making the changes I want to see. I just can’t. But my world would have been poorer without feeling her passion, her tears, and her commitment to peaceful protest and change. I can only hope she comes through this in a way that allows her voice to keep that theme strong!