Restoring the Hope Economy

How brands can invest in collective optimism, not fear and anxiety

I have a copy of an old Life magazine that was published when I was 3 years old. It's the issue where they celebrate Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walking on the moon. I'm sure there are a lot of science freaks and rocket lovers out there who love this issue, too. I have to admit, though, I'm actually not that great a fan of the Apollo program. I mean, sure it's cool, it just never really blew my mind. But I am a big fan of hope, and when I look through that issue of Life today, I find the collective hope and optimism still emanating off those pages bizarrely thrilling.

Think about the Apollo program. It was launched by a Democratic president, and then a decade later a Republican president was there to celebrate when the astronauts all safely splashed down. Years later, we all grew up with an awe about what America had been able to pull off by believing in something big together. By doing something great together.

One fascinating part of the story is the way the press, especially Life magazine, worked with the government to promote the space program. Their reporters ghost-wrote the "first person" stories of the astronauts. It was all so positive.

Even the marketers were in on this message. Del Monte, Stouffers and Brillo all had an Apollo-themed ad. Crest had a full-page ad celebrating the fact that Buzz and Neil used their toothpaste up there in space. Sony announced that its tape recorders were "out of this world." VW had an adorable ad—these were the glory days of DDB after all—with a photo of the lunar module and the headline "It's ugly, but it gets you there." Pure genius.

Today, we might see advertisers tailoring messages for a big media splash like the Super Bowl, but the days of us all lining up behind one great human moment of possibility seems long past. In fact, the opposite forces are hard at work.  

Anyone who has followed Facebook's algorithms knows today's media giants are actually built to stoke dissension and anger, to turn us against one another. Their traffic grows off our fear and anxiety. Organizations like Check My Ads Institute are tracking brands that fuel intolerance with their programmatic buys on sites like Breitbart and worse. Where marketing once used great missions of hope to pull us together, now ads are feeding and fostering a hate economy. 

I am curious if we can ever get back to where we once were. After all, the pendulum does swing. There are a few easy steps we can make:

  • Aim your brand carefully. Obviously it's easy to identify the things that unify us (the Olympics) vs. things that tear us apart (Steve Bannon).
  • Interrogate the robots. Where are your programmatic dollars being spent? 
  • Always double check. Don't just trust the junior media buyer's promises. Ask for verification.

Marketing departments are going to have to decide if they want to continue bankrolling the destruction of, well, everything. They need to decide soon. The clock is ticking.

The good news is there are an awful lot of entrepreneurs, policy makers and investors all working on innovations that can have profoundly positive impact. We should support their various missions the same way Crest, Brillo and VW all came together to support Neil and Buzz. I am hopeful we can do this, I truly think it can happen. Because while the challenges we face certainly do loom large, none of them are any bigger than the moon.

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