Power of Pop Culture

AndACTION helps nonprofits identify relevant narratives in pop culture and use them as part of their communications strategy. Ideas, attitudes, images and perspectives presented in film and television impact how people think and act in real life. When nonprofits use mainstream TV and movies to draw attention to their causes, they can connect with viewers, participate in trending conversations and broaden the audiences that care about and are willing to do something about their causes.

Pop culture offers organizations opportunities to use it and achieve important communication outcomes, including:

Spreading the truth

Photo Credit: ABC Go

When Dre was diagnosed with diabetes in “Black-ish,” the sitcom used that plotline to point out that black Americans have a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes than white Americans. When such information is presented in the entertainment context, it gives organizations the opportunity to make information, like important facts about inequities in health care, more accessible and believable.

Creating a social norm 

Photo Credit: The Daily Beast

In her 1997 sitcom, Ellen DeGeneres’ character came out on national TV and brought an openly gay woman into millions of living rooms. Fast-forward to the 2000s, “Modern Family” chronicled a same-sex couple’s adoption process when Lily completed Cam and Mitchell’s family. By highlighting narratives that normalize causes like LGBTQ rights and inclusion, nonprofits can use pop culture to redefine what is normal in our society, making “others” one of us.

 Challenging stereotypes

Photo Credit: People

“Jane the Virgin” showcases Latina women in a wide variety of careers and circumstances and displays the complexity of immigration and its impact on life decisions. Calling attention to characters in TV and films that break away from generalized depictions of race, age, gender and sexual orientation can help nonprofits have conversations about how to support people who belong to underrepresented communities, create empathy for them and make us root for them.


Challenging the status quo

Photo Credit: Variety

“Get Out,” a meet-the-parents thriller in which a 20-something white New Yorker brings her African-American boyfriend home to Connecticut for the first time, served as a satire about the real horrors of systemic racism in the United States. Highlighting a stark contrast between our ideals and our greatest fears can sometimes show that we still have a lot of work to do to build an equitable society.


Spotlighting a problem and driving action for a solution

Photo Credit: TV Guide

“Law and Order: SVU” has driven awareness of the backlog of rape kits and also helped generate the political will to do something about it. By introducing this problem to a wide audience, the show has given sexual assault survivors and advocates a platform to capitalize on renewed interest in the issue.

Creating or connecting with a community

Photo Credit: CBS Minnesota

In a Season 2 scene of “Stranger Things,” Dustin Henderson wears a vintage Science Museum of Minnesota sweatshirt. Recognizing the strength of the show’s fan base, the nonprofit museum began selling reproductions of the vintage hoodies. Fans purchased more than 80,000 within a month. When organizations create a space or an opportunity for fans to engage around their favorite shows and movies, they energize an already existing and passionate community willing to advance their cause.

Combat stigmas

Photo Credit: The CW

A quick-witted comedy musical, the show “Crazy Ex- Girlfriend” might seem like an unlikely place to find nuanced depictions of how depression can debilitate loved ones. But that’s exactly what Rebecca’s character did. When topics like learning disabilities, sexual and mental health, incarceration, reproductive rights and addiction appear in pop culture, viewers are exposed to the complexity of those experiences and how they affect people in the real world. Nonprofits can use these stories to push back against taboos and instead provide relevant and factual information about the issues.

Demonstrate consequences and change behaviors

Photo Credit: MTV

“16 and Pregnant” showed the real-life aftermath of unprotected sex. In the hours after new episodes aired, searches and tweets regarding birth control rose significantly, and in the following years, the decline in teen births accelerated dramatically. The show also gave teens the motivation and foundation to talk about the issue with their partners and parents.

Increase empathy

Photo Credit: The Atlantic

TV and film transports viewers into the shoes of the characters they watch on screen. As with “Wonder,” this can lead to increased empathy, understanding and acceptance.

These aren’t the only things pop culture can help do, but just this short list should make organizations realize that modern communication efforts include pop culture plays. Want to know how to make your own, click here.