Advocacy tips from a traveling Indian food truck

First off, they know how to reach D.C. audiences, they are masters of getting attention on a limited budget, they are working to build a community of support using social media, and they are proactively engaging their detractors. Obviously, part of their appeal is also that they offer delicious Indian food at street-vendor prices — but hey, you get where we are going with all this.

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For those not familiar with Fojol Bros, they have made a name for themselves traveling around D.C. in a tricked-out 1965 Chevy Step Van blaring carnival music.

If you go up to order at the window, don’t be surprised to see them wearing their signature fake moustaches, one-piece jumpsuits and Indian wedding turbans.

When we interviewed Peter Korbel (truck name: Kipoto) and told him we intended to feature Fojol Bros as a case study for advocacy professionals, we were happily surprised to learn that the Bros’ original inspiration actually came from an advocacy/political source: the Barack Obama campaign.

Peter’s business partner, Justin Vitarello (truck name: Dingo), worked on the campaign in Iowa and Virginia. From the Obama campaign they learned the importance of building a sense of community. As their website describes, “they hope to bring together local communities through a dynamic food experience on D.C.’s streets.”

Tips from the truck

Fojol advice on marketing:

We asked Korbel about their marketing strategy. He described it as a blend of on- and offline attention-grabbing. Their primary marketing vehicle is their truck. It’s big, it’s bright and it’s noisy. But they do work to slowly layer in different marketing elements to help keep the momentum growing. A recent addition was providing colorful patchwork blankets for guests to lay out on during their lunch service stops.

When it comes to online marketing, Fojol Bros take a targeted but minimalist approach. Their website is fairly simple and deliberately lacking in the typical bells and whistles. While they maintain a basic presence on Facebook, most of their success online has developed through Twitter (follow them @fojolbros). They can let their customers know where they will be stopping and can advertise their specials. What more does a food truck need?

Fojol advice on using Twitter:

Fojol Bros’ strategy for using Twitter isn’t the standard line, but it is great advice for anyone considering using Twitter for advocacy:

1. Don’t try to follow too many people. “If you do, you start missing stuff.” Find “real people of value” who can offer a “real value-add,” says Korbel.

2. Market your online presence offline. Fojol Bros’ Twitter followers increase exponentially each time they take the truck out.

3. Be very purposeful in the messages you write. Korbel takes pride to note that “you know a Tweet from Fojol Bros is going to be relevant to you.”

4. Develop a language (voice) for your messages. In the case of Fojol Bros, they have naturally chosen a circus theme.

Fojol advice on engaging detractors:

Despite their best efforts, the Fojol Bros do run into very occasional claims that their shtick is racist. “In our hearts we are not here to offend, we’re here to celebrate one-piece jumpsuits, turbans and moustaches,” Korbel exclaims.

Even so, Korbel recognizes that you must not ignore the detractors. During a lull in serving customers, Korbel and Vitarello will try to talk directly with people who have a complaint. They try to explain their vision, outlining their view that wedding turbans are not religious icons and that the moustaches are not racist, just funny.

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But Korbel does recognize that you “can’t answer every question. There’s just not enough time.” He says somewhat defiantly that the “Internet can give a voice to anybody — some get too much credibility who really shouldn’t.” But if someone is willing to come and talk in person, the Fojol Bros will “make time.”

Look out for the Fojol Bros around D.C., and when you hear them coming, think about how you can implement some inexpensive but creative ideas to gain attention to your organization’s issues and priorities.

The Fojol Bros’ mix of online and outdoor marketing may also be an excellent model for reaching Capitol Hill audiences.

With thousands of congressional staffers actively engaged on Facebook, over 70 representatives and senators with Twitter accounts all working in an area of a few square miles, you may be surprised how well this mixture can work to gain traction for your cause.

Zablud is a partner at Adfero Group specializing in social-media outreach, grassroots community engagement and online marketing.

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