In a rare moment a few weeks ago, I watched an hour or so of TV live - that is, not recorded on our PVR. So I wasn't able to skip the commercials. It was on a Saturday morning and a number of the ads were for charitable organizations. And there were essentially two kinds of ads: those that used guilt as a theme and those that used inspiration as a theme.
The guilt ones were what you would expect from a typical charity advocating for children in the developing world - lots of emaciated children, either sitting listlessly on a stoop or poking around a contaminated pool of water or garbage site. These were the most prominent of the ads. And the message was … don't you feel guilty as you sit there on Saturday morning in your comfy home watching this - shouldn't you be spending your latte money here instead of at Caffé Artigiano?
But there was one ad for a similar charity that was different. It started off showing a child - but the child was clean, healthy and active. It showed him attending a school where there was a whole classroom of children like him. It showed him eating a meal and playing on a field. And the message was … we're doing some pretty amazing things for these kids - don't you want to be a part of great initiatives like ours?
There are so many messages of guilt and fear that pervade marketing. Well, that pervade a lot of communications, really. That we don't deserve something. Or we need to protect ourselves. That something or someone is coming for us. That we'll never really be happy.
And you know what, that is so tiresome.
I think this must be why the TED Talks are so popular - because they are inspirational. You see Amy Smith confronting the problem of cooking fires that kill 2 million children a year - she created a simple solution: a tool for turning farm waste into clean-burning charcoal. Or Willie Smits who navigated both environmental and societal factors to regrow local rainforest in Borneo and save local orang-utans as well as create a sustainable cash crop for the local population.
These are programs that I can get behind, put up my hand and say "Yes, I will give you some of my money so I can be a part of this amazing thing you have going on." It's why I love lending money via Kiva - because people are doing something and want to make a positive difference in their world.
I don't know about you - but I need more inspiration. And not inspiration like "Boy, I'll bet these sneakers will make me run faster or seem cooler." But inspiration like "I played a part, however small, in making the world better."
That's what I'd like to see more of.