Repeat After Me
Quick Read: Some deep seated cultural values that we project on to our children are in need of a massive over haul. Nike and Dove have brilliantly brought this to life in their recent campaigns.
Or does it?
For a long time it was believed that cursive writing identifies us as much as our physical features do, revealing something unique and distinctive about our inner being.
But over a century, the focus on cursive handwriting in schools actually ended up achieving the opposite. Mastering it was dull, repetitive work, intended to make every student’s handwriting match a pre-defined standard.
In fact in the 19th century America, students were reportedly taught to become “writing machines”, holding their arms and shoulders in awkward poses for hours to get into shape for writing drills.
Or take this Lego ad from 1981. See anything unusual here?
Those were the days when LEGO blocks were sold by the “bucket” with blocks of different sizes and colors thrown in together and labelled “Universal Building Sets”.
This approach celebrated a child’s creativity regardless of what she has created. As the ad copy above goes on to say..
“…how proud it’s made her. It’s a look you’ll see whenever children build something all by themselves. No matter what they’ve created”
Sadly this approach didn’t sell a lot of LEGO blocks presumably because it required too much risk on the part of parents and kids — the risk of making something that wasn’t perfect or expected.
So what did LEGO do?
They switched from these all purpose “Universal Building Sets” to a lineup that included more of predefined kits — models that must be assembled precisely one way, or they’re wrong.
Why would these pre-defined kits of LEGO blocks sell so many more copies? As Seth Godin says, it is because they match what parents expect and what kids have been trained to do.
These discourses on cursive handwriting or LEGO are metaphors of what’s happening with schools around.
By the turn of the 19th century, the biggest challenges of our newly minted industrial economy were two fold.
- finding enough compliant workers and
- finding enough eager customers
The school system — that most of us would have been brought up under — evidently solved both problems.
But the world around has changed into a culture that celebrates ideals like ingenuity, connection, ideas, courage and risk Vs one that only promoted values like conformity, obedience and risk aversion.
Sadly our schooling system has changed little from that originally envisaged for a completely different era. (More in Seth Godin’s must read manifesto ‘Stop Stealing Dreams — What is school for?’)
So a scene with a class full of students repeating ad nauseam after their teacher, rhymes or lessons that only serve the purpose of further perpetuating outdated or worse still outlandish values against today’s realities is certain to provoke anger and perhaps even instigate an active change in our world view.
Two brands have recently used this very scene, to demonstrate how deeply we have tried to graft our misplaced conceptions of ideas around individualism and beauty in our children.
Earlier this month, Nike Japan launched a new campaign with a spot that redefines the phrase ‘Minohodoshirazu’, which translates to “Don’t know your place.” While the term is typically used as an insult towards the overly ambitious, the anthem ad tells viewers that not knowing your place can instead be a mindset for athletes to strive for. (source)
Created by W+K Tokyo and directed by Omri Cohen, the ad manages to contrast the values being embedded in children with shots of athletic achievements that run counter to these messages of compliance and obedience. Video here.
Dove’s Is That You?
The rhyme and the contrasting visuals make you wonder if this is how we have sought to institutionalize a misguided set of beauty ideals in generation after generation of young girls, every single year. Video here.
It is always interesting to see different brands, different agencies from different parts of the world adopt a similar executional approach to land their respective ideas.
Originally published at brandednoise.com on August 30, 2016.