“Human life is very deep and our modern lifestyle is not.”
What kid didn’t love growing up with Mr. Rogers? He had this unmatched ability to inspire imagination and make us feel the way we hope others view us… as special.
I remember bringing my bowl of Frosted Flakes into the living room in the mornings before school and tuning into the old man in the bright cardigan; trying to restrain myself from fixating so much on the world he was inviting me into as to not keep a close eye on my Frosted Flake-to-milk ratio, lest I incur unwanted sogginess.
My favorite part of each episode was when the trolley would whistle its way into Mr. Rogers’ living room. It meant a new adventure was on the way, an escape from the normal, a window into imagination and make-believe.
As I got older though, and I would watch my younger siblings do the Mr. Rogers-Frosted-Flake-&-milk juggling act (they were amateurs compared to my former glory) I began to laugh at some of Mr. Rogers’ practices, especially when it came to his beloved trolley. Watch any episode and you’ll see his arm reach down slightly out of the shot to press a button that obviously triggers the trolley’s arrival.
I thought, if I ever meet Mr. Rogers I would tell him, “Fred, you’ve been doing this for how many years now? You’re obviously quite successful. Don’t you think it’s about time to hire an intern or someone to press the trolley button for you? Or maybe a wireless remote control that you hide up your sleeve? You’re not fooling anyone.”
But lately, I think I get it.
Mr. Rogers didn’t need help making the trolley move. Mr. Rogers knew the audience he was after. He knew that, like me, kids were so tuned-in to his unwavering love and care for their imaginations, their futures, and their neighborhoods that he didn’t need to rely on machines or gadgets for help. He had mastered the art of human connection.
His brand of loving your neighbor as yourself, remembering you’re unique even if you don’t feel like you are, and imagining the possibilities of a world without hate were as transparent as his low budget living room set. He lived what he preached from that living room and he treated his viewer like they were the only person in it.
That’s the way I want to run my brand. I believe that now, more than ever, we possess the best vehicles invented to create culture with, the latest and greatest remote controls to move the trolley. But without that human connection, that one-of-a-kind fingerprint to press the button and steer our imaginations forward, we have settled for a culture run by robots.
This is not to say we should not embrace the technological shifts in media and marketing. If you were not interested in exploring these possibilities my guess is that you wouldn’t be on this blog reading this post. Our creative agency, Create Culture, exists in order to help brands keep going as the world changes. It’s imperative. Innovation, experimentation, and relevancy are what keep brands from dying. However, just as imperative to our survival is our capacity to truly understand the weight of just what is meant by the word “social.”
I love how the adjective gets thrown around almost everywhere these days. There’s social media, social networking, social justice, social enterprise, etc. At the heart of it, all of these buzz words are, in essence, pointing culture toward the same target. Allow me to offer a definition that I believe will be of help for the purposes of this book.
“Social” means having a “humans first” mentality.
Whether we’re talking about a tweet that gives customers permission and a platform to discuss a product candidly, a campaign that gives aid to struggling communities globally, or a mobile website that allows people to experience a story remotely, for any brand to truly make an impact and create culture in the 21st century, it must take a “humans first” approach, forgetting questions like “how can we leverage social media?” and focusing on creating media that is at its core, social.
In our agency’s new book, Create Culture: Thoughts on Branding for Humans, I’ve invited some of my friends to inspire you toward this idea of “branding for humans.” Friends like Tyler Merrick, Founder of Project 7, Jason Jaggard, Founder of Spark Good, and Promise Tangeman. Some thoughts are very practical; like how to use video to tell a great human story. Some are very philosophical; like the idea of creating vs. consuming. Every one of them is worth reading. Beyond being brilliant thinkers, these people are brilliant doers. They have taken the massive and terrifying leap from ideation to “ideaction” and have lived to tell the story. Most of all, they are deep into their journey of understanding what it means to put “humans first” in everything they do; and they consistently challenge me to do the same.
My hope is that together as leaders we can embark on this new era of innovation; implementing the kind of branding that puts relationship over transaction, community over complacency, humans over machines. Not only because it’s right, but also because it works.
What are some examples of brands doing it right – putting humans first in everything they do? What are some tangible ways your business, cause, or movement has gone the extra mile to “stay human” in an increasingly digital culture?
Amazing thoughts on branding. I think you really nailed the need for brands to change their approach and mentality about marketing. Thanks for that.
I love that you just used mr. Rogers as a marketing example! I loved that show as a kid, and totally identify with the trolley moment. I love the challenge you've presented. I currently work a non-profit (isn't everybody!) and we're always balancing on the line between marketing and ministry, trying to raise support but trying to maintain our purpose - in many cases, our supporters are the people we are trying to serve. I've never thought about how working in this environment is preparing me to bring this sort of mentality to marketing if and when I finally move on to self employment. fantastic thoughts, thank you!