Learn from Mister Rogers: Look for the Helpers
In his ultimate wisdom and counsel, Mister Rogers shared a thought that is inspiring and instructive for all of us who manage brands in the current cultural context: “When I was a boy,” he said, “and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’"
As media and social discourse churn with alarming and often polarising issues, it’s clear that the current cultural context doesn’t lack for feelings of fear and anxiety. It’s been ever thus that fear is rightfully to be feared. Fear manifests itself in walls, insularity, a toxic sense of 'them' and in denial. Sound familiar? While the economy may appear to be strong, the fear that is in its midst certainly makes the economic success harder to savour and inevitably less sustainable.
It's axiomatic that a marketplace buoyed by optimism and positivity is more desirable than one driven by fear. It’s in everyone’s interest to minimise fear. As marketers, we’ve been adept at showing consumers how to get the stain out, but now is the ideal time for brand leaders to engage consumers to help them get the fear out.
Brand leaders, we truly can be the helpers. We can help tackle fear and, by doing so, do right by our businesses.
At a time when product and service experiences are so often at parity, and innovation offers only short-lived differentiation, how a brand behaves, how it shines a light on the truth with facts, how it reflects its values, will become more crucial to driving consumers’ engagement and loyalty, particularly those of millennials and gen Z.
From environmental sustainability to equitable social and economic policies and so much in between, millennials and gen Z have been left with a real mess to clean up and much to be feared. Consequently, they will increasingly and understandably care more about a brand’s values than their predecessors have. Millennials and gen Z will increasingly expect to have confidence that the brands they buy come from companies who care about helping them solve the problems of civilisation that they are faced with. And simply being responsible won’t be sufficient. These consumers will expect brands to do more, to take bolder action.
Simply put, now is the time for brands to get off the sidelines on big, fear-inducing social issues. And it’s inspiring to see more brands do just that very thing.
If the opposite of love is indifference, then the opposite of helping is passivity. Brands have a critical opportunity to 'Just Do It'. Kudos to Nike for its bravery in taking an educated risk in featuring activist Colin Kaepernick as he counters the fears of social equality progress slipping backwards. It’s worth noting that Nike stock advanced $6 billion in value following the launch of the campaign, and it’s no coincidence that the brand was also named Ad Age 2018 Marketer of the Year.
While there may be some detractors to this initiative, big kudos to Gillette for meeting #MeToo head-on with a brave, compelling campaign that rises up against toxic masculinity and demands that men can be better. My wife and daughter are already patting me on the back for being a long-time Gillette user.
Perhaps the lowest hanging fruit for brand leaders where they can especially be the helpers is in combating climate change. Since the original Earth Day in 1970, brand environmental sustainability actions and communications have ebbed and flowed. But the National Climate Assessment released the day after Thanksgiving is a game-changer. It is extraordinarily alarming to say the least. As climate change effects are more profoundly experienced by more people over time, the question of whether human-made climate change is real or not will become moot. Brands that demonstrate tangible commitment and consistency in their efforts to do their part in helping to solve the problem promise to be rewarded far moreso by millennials and gen Z than brands that don’t. In fact, there’s ample evidence that many millennials are willing to pay more for environmentally responsible products.
Brand leadership in addressing climate change will increasingly matter more at a time when our country’s executive branch pursues policies aimed at rolling back whatever progress has been made. History might not be kind to this administration, but count on historians - and consumers - to be kind to the brands that took real action now and endeavoured to lead with their commitment and actions.
It’s encouraging to see successful brands leaning in to be 'helpers' to make the future a little less fearful. Just a few examples from across the spectrum:
- Patagonia is dedicating $10 million of its Trump corporate tax cut to combat climate change.
- Lush Cosmetics’ remarkable absence of wasteful packaging continues to be a revelation.
- Dunkin’ is replacing its polystyrene foam cups with paper cups in 2020, removing one billion polystyrene foam cups from the waste stream annually.
Now, more than ever, brands have an opportunity to do well for their businesses by doing good. Doing so takes bravery, a leadership orientation, and the willingness to just do it. I recall a barstool conversation with a somewhat incredulous friend when I began my career. “Please don’t sit there and tell me you want to make the world a better place through a career in marketing,” he said. I believed it then, and I believe it now more than ever.
If brands seek to be relevant, thrive and be built to last, 2019 is the year to start taking more of a stand and to take real action against social issues that are creating fear. Millennials and gen Z, in particular, will reward you for it.
Whether the issue is climate change or another fear-inducing social issue, simply asking, “How can we be more helpful to people and the context they are living in?” is a great way to begin any brand planning meeting.
Mister Rogers would be proud.
Bob Raidt is an EVP, group account director at Leo Burnett and a former board director of World Wildlife Fund’s Earth Hour.