The case for optimism

Jack Blog

June 15th, 2011 By Jack Morton

Last week President Barack Obama held a news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at which he declared that negative coverage of the economy is pulling down consumer and business confidence, creating a self-fulfilling recessionary outcome we can all be leery of. While acknowledging that the recovery isn’t as robust as he’d like (me, too!), the President suggested that “our task is to not panic.”

Speaking from brand world, I humbly suggest that we can do better than not panicking.

How about some optimism, people?

By optimism I don’t mean fiddling while Rome burns, or encouraging irresponsible consumption (I think that was the last recession, right?), or false-front happy faces  (a bad thing for brands).

By optimism I mean brands having an ethos of not only believing that things should be better but also of working to make them so — of making a stake in progress as a brand value and a brand message.

Examples? Chipotle is an optimistic brand in that it can rightfully claim to have done something people didn’t think possible: commit to “food with integrity” and sustainable ingredients and practices, about which it boasts across its owned media spaces. It would be an even more optimistic brand if it kept on raising its sustainability game despite the lingering recession and rising commodity costs. One might also put Whole Foods, which recently reported its strongest results in years, in the same category.

A very different example: Chrysler’s “Imported from Detroit” is so optimistic that it feels like a political campaign boosting the Motor City. It’s not surprising to see this campaign being appropriated by an actual political campaign, for the Liberal Party in Ontario — but arguably the approach won’t do much for Chrysler, as it’s just words disconnected from any actual change in behavior, approach or product innovation.

Negative Nellies out there may insist that continued panicking is the way to go, but I suspect there will be a trend toward optimism in and out of brand world. Heck, if you don’t believe me, read what PSFK had to say on the subject back at the height of the recession. And if you’re still not convinced, agree to disagree and go watch Adora Svitak’s TED Talk for a worldview based on just this optimistic ideal.