For the past 10 years, more than three million people around the world have begun a revolution to colloquially rename November in the name of men’s health awareness. During Movember, men grow mustaches to raise an eyebrow or two with the goal of striking up conversations about the purpose behind sporting a lip sweater, as well as raising money along the way.
Incarnating itself out of a pair of Australian mates realizing the moustache (or Mo in Australian slang) had become unfashionable, the two friends felt that it needed to return. Since then, Movember has grown from an original 30 participants raising no money to 1.1 million “Mo Bros” and “Mo Sistas” in 21 countries raising $147 million for men’s health research in 2012 alone.
After noticing how the moustache sparked so many conversations, sometimes in disapproval, the original Mo Bros saw a real potential to bring awareness to prostate cancer.
“Our founders noticed that despite striking as prevalently as breast cancer, there was very little fundraising and awareness campaigns for prostate cancer,” said Tom Whiteside, business and community engagement manager for Movember’s U.S. office. “The [strategy] was then to make this idea of growing a moustache in November about men’s health awareness with a particular focus on prostate cancer.”
In 2004 — Movember’s first year of fundraising — Movember grew to 450 participants, an incredible 150 percent increase, and raised $45,000.
In 2007, co-founder and CEO Adam Garone moved to Los Angeles in order to bring Movember to both the U.S. and Canada.
“Word had spread a little bit to the United States and Canada,” Whiteside said. “Adam approached the Prostate Cancer Foundation in Santa Monica and expressed interest in partnering.”
“Movember is very grassroots. It’s mostly of word-of-mouth — primarily online,” Whiteside said. “It’s grown from about 2,000 U.S. participants in 2007 to more than 209,000 last year. Word spread quickly.”
Partnerships and Marketing
Although most of Movember’s message is worn on the lips of its participants during Movember, outside of moustache season, from January to August, Movember is focused on program activity and ensuring funds raised are channeled to world-class programs. During this time, Movember is very busy locking in partners, working with its business and community partners and developing a new marketing campaign. Additionally, each year Movember prepares its website and servers for the millions of page views it receives — in 2012, Movember.com received 146 million page views.
“Our corporate partners get the word out by making Movember a part of their own marketing campaigns and platforms,” Whiteside said. “We’ve been extremely fortunate that most of our partners have approached us instead of the other way around.”
The same is true of what is considered to be Movember’s biggest pop culture coverage — being featured in an episode of “The Office.” The theme of Movember in the episode was not pitched by the foundation to the producers. Almost the opposite was true. One of the writers for “The Office,” who happened to be a Mo Bro, approached the foundation for permission to write Movember into an episode. What became of the idea is fantastic. Whiteside explained that the organization did help to shape the message for the show, but it was very grassroots and organic the way it came about.
Movember not only has corporate sponsors, but also professional athletes who are Mo Bros — even entire teams and leagues participate as well. Whiteside said that this year participants include Victor Cruz, Aaron Rodgers, Adrian Peterson, the Boston Bruins, Major League Soccer and the Nashville Predators.
“This is where we want Movember to come full circle,” Whiteside said. “We want guys to grow that moustache, but we also want every grower to be registered so that people can visit his page, keep up with his progress, be a part of our community and most importantly ensure the funds raised are being funneled to world-class programs.”
The Movember community, which works very much like its own social network, is what has made becoming involved so effortless.
“When you register at Movember.com, you receive your own personal ‘Mo Space’ page, which is your fundraising page,” Whiteside said. “It’s not simply a place to donate. It’s a place where you can leave comments, upload photos, and post videos or images to your page as well as other participants’ pages.”
So while Movember is very grassroots, the organization couldn’t have grown as much as it has without the massive voice it has online.
“I think Movember would have spread regardless, but in this day and age the idea can spread just that much more quickly because of the interconnectivity the Internet provides,” Whiteside said.
Actual participation in Movember is essential to its campaign. Without the moustache, there really wouldn’t be any charity of this scale for men’s health. What makes participation and fundraising so easy is Movember’s low barrier of entry – growing a moustache.
“To participate, you literally don’t do something for 30 days,” Whiteside said. “You just don’t shave your upper lip.”
But because Movember is only about the moustache, no beards no goatees, you must shave the rest of your face, leaving your upper lip hairy.
If participating scares you, the folks over at Movember understand and are one step ahead of you men reading this.
“I think a lot of guys have a latent desire to grow a moustache,” Whiteside said. “It’s not necessarily socially acceptable. It might even not look good. The idea works with that because it gives those guys an excuse to grow that moustache for once and see what they look like. It’s fun.”
Movember also encourages participants to attend Movember parties and events. These are both local and national events, such as the end-of-the month costumed galas.
In Nashville, Murray Allan has helped to organize several events throughout the month, including a Movember CrossFit WOD and the annual “Nashville Stache Bash,” a moustache-themed party on Nov. 30.
Movember does realize that by creating a whole campaign around growing a moustache, most women may not opt to support its cause because of how exclusive the idea seems on its face.
The exclusion of women is not a goal of Movember. In fact, Movember highly endorses the inclusion of women in its campaign. Those women who register on the website, raise funds and support the cause are known as “Mo Sistas.” These women actually play a key role in the campaign.
“We have found that women tend to be the gateway to health in a man’s life,” Whiteside said. “It’s usually our moms, daughters, girlfriends, wives or a friend of ours that actually gets us to go to the doctor.”
Whiteside also pointed that, when women register and get involved with Movember, it usually makes it easier for a man to be okay with growing a moustache. Who would have guessed?
Creating a Local Campaign
Local Movember campaigns typically have a similar story to how they got started. Take Nashville for example.
“It started [in Nashville] with a group of friends sitting around the dinner table talking about growing moustaches,” said Allan, one of the leaders for the Movember campaign in Nashville. “There were about 14 of us that first year. The following year, we had about 250 people participate and raised over $7500 for Movember.”
Allan explained that expansion, while time consuming, is best done the way Movember started: simply talking about it with other people, local organizations and businesses.
“It’s key to partner with people who are strategically invested,” Allan said, “someone who might have an interest or have a family member affected by prostate cancer or testicular cancer. Also local businesses that want to reach out and give back to the local community, whether that’s by social media, hosting an event or just telling their customer about the campaign.”
Allan said that the Movember community in Nashville has close connections with several local businesses, media outlets and even the Nashville Predators. Some of the local businesses and media outlets include textLIVNG, Uncle Classic Barbershop, Frothy Monkey, Freshpoint, Wannado, Native Magazine and Yelp Nashville.
“Planning ahead is extremely important,” Allan said. “We started talking to some of these people back in the spring. Having those conversations early makes everything a lot
Movember in Nashville has actually gained enough leverage and presence in the city that Nashville’s mayor, Karl Dean, signed a proclamation to support Movember. Allan was able to meet with him in person to discuss the proclamation prior to the mayor’s signing it.
Grow the Mo
Since 2003, participation has increased from 30 to more than 3 million, spread to 21 countries, and continually worked to “change the face of men’s health.” Whiteside said that Movember is hoping to improve again from last year’s numbers, but explained that the organization likes to keep those expectations internal.
You can join the campaign at Movember.com. But remember, no beards!
“Beards are now very popular,” Whiteside said. “But the whole point of the moustache is that it is remarkable. It makes someone stop and remark. It probes the question, ‘Why are you growing a moustache?’ We just don’t think beards have that same power.”
So join the fight, take the challenge and grow a “mo.” I have. As this year’s campaign slogan goes: “If you don’t like our moustaches, we don’t like your laws.”