Deepa Prasad is the Director of Brand & Content Marketing at Feeding America, the largest-hunger relief organization in the United States, whose mission is to advance change in America by ensuring equitable access to nutritious food for people who struggle to put food on the table. Prior to Feeding America, Deepa has worked at many national advertising agencies on food brands such as Kool Aid, Capri Sun, Velveeta Cheese & McDonalds. In her role at Feeding America she works with partners to create and distribute public service announcements to generate awareness for the issue of hunger. Many people are not aware of the scale of hunger in this country and that it affects people in every county in every state. It can be difficult to create a sense of empathy with the issue overall as there is still stigma around hunger in America. Deepa brings her experience in advertising and brand building to bring awareness of food insecurity and for people to take action.
You’ve worked at some of the most prestigious advertising agencies – can you tell us how you got started in this field?
I grew up in India and I used to watch a lot of ads as a young adult. And I would talk to my parents and my family members about how brands use creativity to sell their products. I know it’s a little naughty, but I would love to kind of talk about how they use different ways.
And that actually kind of led me to pursue you know, economics in, in undergrad. And then. I did my master’s in mass communication at Boston university for my grad program. And then ultimately that led me to work in advertising field. And I think it kind of takes together business strategy, creativity and human behavior, which excites me overall.
And then after graduation I actually got an opportunity to work at Ogilvy and Mather in New York. And then it was no looking back.
How many years were you at Ogilvy? Did you do any work with influencers?
I was with Ogilvy for like I would say three years. I did one in Chicago, a little bit in Chicago, and then I also did in New York. So at that time only my career influencer marketing was not something that people really kind of engaged in. They would be celebrities that people will like kind of work through, but it was not necessarily.
Trusting like everybody else, you know, like building the relationships with someone on social social was still kind of coming up a little bit. And I feel like my focus was mostly on brand advertising, so we created a lot of integrated campaigns and that kind of helped drive specific business objectives.
And I worked on some of the, I guess I should say I was, I was, I’m fortunate to, I worked on some of the. Really great American brands, including Koolaid, Capri, sun McDonald’s Firestone tires. I also did Malboro so I’ve been fortunate, so I’m glad that I was able to work on some really great brands that you know, has helped me kind of stick around in this field.
How did you transition from working with the largest fast-food chains in the world to an organization that helps feed america?
Food has always been my passion. And one of the things growing up is we always eat for the table. We would talk about what the next meal was and you know, where we would get this food from. We also talked about inviting people over and we would also do in terms of what are we growing in our garden. So it was a very integral part of. Of my, my, my youth. And one of the key things that, you know, as a family, my parents always instilled in me was food connects people.
Eat your fruits and veggies, it’s most important thing. And then lastly never waste food. That is one thing that’s deeply instilled in me. So what happened was after I worked on the corporate side for many years working on as well as I mentioned many food brands. I decided to use my experience for an organization that that focuses on food and also kind of has the social.
And I was so fortunate to have got this opportunity of feeding America. And my last job previously was working on McDonald’s which also kind of dissimilar in terms of how they set up as franchisees. The feeding America network is also set up with like different food banks. Who are they? So that kind of helped me kind of translate some of my passion that I had for food, as well as my experience, which is something that I’m so grateful every day that I wake up.
I’m so grateful that I can even make a small little difference.
How would you best describe the purpose and mission of Feeding America?
Feeding America’s overall vision is an, a Medico when no one is hungry. We always talk about this. We want to be out of business. We want everybody in the United States to have food, and I think that’s so important. We work with many food banks and network of food banks over 200 of them.
And then also 21 statewide associations as well as 60,000. Food pantries and soup kitchens around the country. So it’s a pretty wide network of of, of in the system itself. And then one of the key things about the mission also is food rescue. So we want to make sure that, you know, whatever, wherever there’s food, we want to connect with people who are facing hunger.
So that also. Critical pocket quantify mission. We also make sure that we advocate for legislation so that we have enough programs. So we have enough programs to support people facing hunger. And lastly, what we also do is make sure that we really kind of talk about the systemic issues. And w why people face hunger because food insecurity is dependent on a lot of different things.
Somebody. I know, have a full-time job. And then all of a sudden they don’t have a job and then they are, you know look for assistance. So that’s something that is such an important thing for our mission.
What about some of the milestones, I know that there’s big milestone months and events that you focus on.
So one thing that we do is we need to always drive awareness for the issue of hunger, but it’s all year-round. Because one of the key things that even though we might have some pulse periods hungry, It’s always there.
So we don’t want people to forget. It’s also hidden, so we want to make sure that we continue to Mudget awareness throughout the year. And then in addition to that, we do have some key periods that we do our marketing campaigns on. Summer hunger is a very critical time. This is when a lot of kids don’t have access to meals because schools are closed.
I just have to pause. I don’t think people realize that I think people just associate summer with sun and fun and they don’t think like, wait a minute, like they’re not in the schools and these kids are not. Yeah. Yeah. So that’s something that we definitely focus on. And then the other area that we focus on is September, which is hunger action month.
And this is actually a program marketing program. It’s a pillar to drive. And inspire action among anybody who wants to support the issue. It’s the public, it’s the network of food banks. It’s celebrities, it’s anybody who’s in a leader, tier volunteers any supporters. So that is something that we do.
And then the third pillar. We focus on is giving, which is basically during the holidays, which is what pretty much a lot of people feel that they want to give as to what certain causes. But one thing I do want to say that, you know, having something across the year is so critical because you want to build awareness so that when the giving time comes, that people would remember the organization they want to support and then are able to support it.
How have you been impacted and how have all the franchises been impacted by COVID?
I mean, it is, the pandemic was, was hard. But I also want to say that we also received a lot of support across so many different sectors from different corporations from the food industry, from big donors, as well as the government. So everybody kind of came together and.
Things are slightly moving back. People think that the lines are not, and you know, people are going back to work, but that’s not still the case. You just don’t see the lines it’s inside buildings. And the reason a lot is to do with what you just mentioned is a lot of impacts because of inflation rising.
And if you look at it feeding America is also in that and the network of food banks is also you know, impacted by all of this. All of the things that are happening in general seven in 10 Americans live paycheck to paycheck. So what happens is that when suddenly something kind of an, an unfortunate circumstance happen, then they basically do.
Yeah, job. And then they have to reach out to assistance. So a lot of times the pandemic, obviously the pandemic has kind of created a big, huge issue, but people were facing combo even before the pandemic. So it’s just exacerbated the whole thing. So we need to continue to work with communities.
Our food banks are continue to work with everyone and, and we need supporters across all levels to kind of be a part in this movement.
Can you explain how inflation is impacting Feeding America?
So one of the ways we also from a feeding America network of food banks, we also do is we buy food.
We buy fresh, we are still fortunate with some of our wonderful corporate donors who give us a lot of food. But in addition, we also have to supplement because it’s a huge big need in there. So because of that we actually ongoing going invite food and open market. So obviously if the price is, is huge, then that impacts us.
And also another key area is transportation. And that is something that how we move food from one place to the other. So with rising fuel costs, that impacts transportation. So all of these things, even though you might think does not impact, you know non-profit non-profit, it does in a, in a larger.
What are some of the biggest challenges Feeding America faces when it comes to marketing?
One of the main things about hunger in general is just the whole, like, there’s a lot of negative stigma about hunger. When someone is facing hungered, they may have made some bad decisions or, you know, things like that, that people think about, you know, they should go get a job and things like that.
But people don’t understand that many of the people who come to a food banks or a pantries for food actually have. It’s just that they don’t have enough to make ends meet. And what happens is that a majority of the budget, a lot of the budget goes to what’s food in the household. So when you see like pricing price increases in grocery items, that impacts a family right away.
And then they have to actually go and you know potentially have to get assistance to be able to make ends meet. So that is something that a lot of people don’t connect. And I think it’s something. We need to continue telling that story and build empathy. And I think that is the key thing for us from a marketing perspective is how do we build empathy for the people facing hunger?
How do we kind of show that compassionate side? Because I think a lot of there’s a lot of decisiveness in America right now. So how do we kind of make sure that we continue to, you know, treat people for what the circumstances that they have and give a little bit more. Compassion and empathy for, for for everyone.
And I think that is something we continue to do through our storytelling and continue to, through, to our marketing to make sure that we build on that. And, and because once you have empathy for someone then you are more likely to support some sort of personal connection and you’re more likely to support.
What about that campaign you did with Lego’s?
Sure. So it’s called food Chilean and passable choice campaign.
We actually launched it last year for her reaction month in September. And as I mentioned, hunger action month is our pillar marketing campaign that basically we help drive awareness. We also inspire action among anyone who wants to support the issue of hunger. So during that time we wanted to create a campaign a promotional campaign for the month and really bringing new supporters who may not be as familiar.
Some of the things that people facing hunger have to go through. So with this campaign, what we wanted to do is we wanted people to kind of stop and think, oh, wow, this is something that I don’t, I’m not facing, but someone else might be facing. So these it’s a visual treatment, a metaphor that we used where basically just showed that a daily.
When you’re thinking about a dealing meal for someone who’s not facing hunger, you’re thinking about, oh, where do I eat? What do I cook? Versus someone who’s facing hunger has to make the difficult or impossible choice between food and other necessities. Very critical necessities, Lifecare electricity.
Exactly. And, and medicine, food or medicine. So what we did with this campaign, we actually kind of did a, a little bit creative way. Showing an egg carton, but instead of eggs in the carton, we had bumps. And then instead of in a toaster where we had bread, we would actually have a prescription. And then instead of you know, a hot breakfast, we would actually have Legos the shape of breakfast teammate.
So just, and the whole idea for this campaign was for people to stop it. And then hopefully, you know, create even do something, you see the egg carton and you’re like, wait a minute. Like what, why is there? Yeah, so it was brilliant. Thank you.
How has social media impacted your marketing efforts for the organization?
Yeah. Social media is an interesting avenue. I think the pandemic has changed a lot with regards to what’s the role of social media gone are the days where people just post. You know, now people expect grads to do much more. They want brands to have a say they want brands to have a point of view.
So that’s how feeding America has also evolved. And we’ve started to you know, talk about certain issues and call them out as it’s supposed to be. And, and make sure that, you know, we, we make sure, especially a lot of injustice that are happening and that impacts the people we serve. So we want to make sure that our community and our voice.
Are there channels like that are stronger for you? Like would Instagram be better for you? Tik Tok or Facebook?
Yeah. So we actually use all in different ways. So there’s always because what our whole objective is, we want to reach people where they are. Cause I think that’s what social media does. It actually, a lot of people hear about a brand or an issue first on social media or through a friend on social media.
So what we’re trying to do. Reach people where they are and bring in new supporters. So depending on what the strategy is we actually connect with them on Instagram, on Facebook or our our, our Twitter or LinkedIn, depending on what the objective of our messaging is would tick tock. We actually have worked with a lot of corporate partners.
We don’t have a presence per se, but we do work with our corporate partners and also a tick top to make sure. We continue to have conversation with, with that audience, because that’s a really important audience because you know, there’s, there’s media has, has evolved a lot. You have the traditional media, which we continue to, you know make sure that we get as much awareness off, usually using television, radio and print and all of that.
But we also want to have conversations where people are as well, a more of a two-way conversation. And that’s something that we continue to do and, and evaluate and reach.
What are some of the ways in which you have leveraged celebrities and influencers to help support Feeding America?
We actually have w we’ve been fortunate to have members of entertainment console that support our mission. They have a huge following, so they actually use their platform to help support our cause, which is wonderful.
And it’s, it’s basically what they use the. It’s connected with issues that are near and dear to them. And a lot of times our people in the entertainment council, they actually do media opportunities. They volunteer at food banks. They also help with legislation if necessary. They also talk about, you know, they, they do different kinds of donated media or different kind of opportunities.
So we try to leverage them as much as possible. And we’ve been forced. They don’t get paid they’re volunteers, so that’s wonderful. And we continue to engage them as much as possible. And as you can see there’s a lot of people on our entertainment console who have been a part of our mission.
Are there any standout campaigns, leveraging celebrities or influencers that really made an impact or, you know, kind of shifted your perception?
Yeah. We actually just did a celebrity PSA campaign with Connie Britton and Shanola Hampton recently.
So it, it, it was, we were so fortunate to have both of them lend their voice as well as be able to, you know talk to a wider audience. And I. We’ve been fortunate to be able to work with different celebrities and many of them also help, you know, do volunteer events and try to engage their audience to come and, and fight be a part of the fight to end hunger.
So in terms of non-celebrity, we’re starting to work a little bit in that space with regards to influencer marketing we just are slowly dabbling in the space of. You know, working with diverse influencers who are reaching millennial parents because that’s our sweet spot right now.
So we’ve started to kind of test a little bit with regards to, in that space. Just to see, you know these influencers have a trusted following. They’ve spent so much time building the brand. And it’s sometimes nice to see how you know, social brands can help connect with these influencers.
They are the ones you know, in the, in, in the market, kind of talking to the audience and talking about different issues. So there is an opportunity for for us and also many nonprofits to see how they can you know, continue to leverage that voice to reach a wider region. Yeah. And then some of the stuff that we do cause we feel like, you know, working with nonprofits, I mean, there’s just so many influencers that at a certain point, they should be using their platform to help make this world a better place.
Like. Yeah, thank you. I will say one of the key things that I’ve learned with influencers is also, we got it’s a little bit of a balance because a lot of times when brands, they kind of own the content, right. They kind of own the content. They drive the content. That’s not the case with influencers.
We got to trust them a little bit. It it’s it’s. It is, it is they have the trusted voice and there’s a huge opportunity. So how do we kind of make sure that we give them the little bit of the reins at the same time, making sure that we work with certain influencers that share common values. And I think there are a lot of influencers out there.
We just need to kind of continue to be open to that space and, and work with different people. And I think it also helps us with like reaching diversity. And I think that is something that geolocation, like, you know, people in different parts or, you know, you can turn something on if there’s a market that really needs support or a group or a community that really needs support.
How do we find you on social?
You can basically go to everyone here can go to FeedingAmerica.org And one of the key things that. Say that hunger is a solvable issue.
There’s a lot because a lot of times people feel like it’s so big that they don’t know where to start. This is a solvable issue. There’s a lot of food out there in the United States that we can definitely make sure that it goes in the hands of people who need it. And I encourage your viewers to definitely go and check out the website, follow us on social.
And, and, and be involved and get involved. You can learn about the issue. You can share on your social channels. If you want to advocate, we have a lot of different ways of how you can advocate for us. Or you can actually look for, we have to find a food bank on our website that you could connect with the local food bank and hopefully sign up for some volunteering opportunities.
And I think that is something that you can, you know, that a lot of people do. Volunteers are very critical part of our mission. So we want people to join us as much as possible.
Name and influence, or you love to follow them, but hate to admit that you do.
So I will say I love dogs. I, my new found passion. Seriously, if you look at it. So I have started to follow a lot of dog influencers. I spend a lot of time on dogs, so funniest pops par efficiently. Dog go delighted as some of the different influences that I follow. I don’t want to admit too much because I just spend a lot of time on them.
We did two in this house, my son and I, we sit there, we scroll through on the D and that there’s these dogs like with birds on their backs or chicken and a dog. Yeah. And it’s, it’s interesting. You say that I have a daughter who is eight years old and we, every time she comes back, she comes like, can we watch it again?
And we just laugh. And I think those are moments that are so important. And I just feel like are they’re wonderful. You can learn so much from dogs. Yeah. It’s amazing. Well, thank you so much for your time, for your contribution to, you know, again, Yeah, everything that you’re doing, it really means a lot to everyone and we hope to continue to support you.
Thank you so much for having me.