In the Fall of 2007, I taught a graduate course in MIT - Technology-based Business Transformation. The course focused on the major challenges that a business must deal with to successfully bring a disruptive innovation to market, including technical and market strategies as well as organizational and cultural issues. The course drew heavily on my concrete experiences at IBM, especially what I learned as general manager of the Internet Division in the second half of the 1990s.
Within the limits of a one-semester course, I wanted to give the students a fairly comprehensive picture of what it takes to bring a disruptive innovation to market, including the key role played by marketing and communications. I wanted the class to hear from a top professional in the field what brand and strategic marketing are all about, so I invited Chris Wall, - Vice Chairman of Ogilvy and Mather, one of the top marketing and advertising agencies in the world, - to be a guest lecturer in the class. For a number of years, I worked closely with Chris and his O&M colleagues in the development of marketing campaigns for IBM initiatives I was leading. These included the award-winning e-business campaign launched in 1997, - which explained what we meant by e-business in a series of really clever 30 second vignettes, - and the Linux campaign a few years later which included this incredible ad.
In his excellent class seminar, Chris explained the difference between trying to establish a brand through mindless jingles or paternalistic assertions that no one believes, versus engaging your audience in a conversation about the future. To engage in such a conversation, you need to essentially tell a story about your aspirations for the brand and how these aspirations are driving your strategy. And, the more powerful and complex the messages you are trying to convey, the more important it is to do so by telling a compelling, emotionally resonant and simple story.
Chris and I became friends, and over the years he has shared with me some of the marketing campaigns he’s worked on that he is particularly proud of. A couple of weeks ago he sent me an e-mail telling me about his latest project with a small foundation, Building for America’s Bravest. Chris and a few of his Ogilvy colleagues created the integrated marketing campaign for the foundation, including its website, ourbravest.org which has just gone live, and includes a few short video clips along with pictures and stories.
I was frankly left speechless by ourbravest.org. Compelling and emotionally resonant does not begin to do justice to its content. The video clips and pictures truly grab you by the throat, or rather, by the heart. I cannot possibly describe them in words, so please take a look and judge for yourself.
Building for America’s Bravest was launched to build Smart Homes for America’s most severely wounded veterans, some of whom are missing 3 or 4 limbs in addition to other major injuries. Each Smart Home is customized to address the unique challenges faced by that particular veteran given his or her injuries. The homes are designed to be easily accessible. They use leading-edge digital technologies to help these injured veterans live better, more independent lives, including “retractable cooktops, cabinets and shelving, automated lighting, heating, air-conditioning and window treatments controlled by an iPad, as well as elevators, roll-in bathrooms, front-load washers and dryers, intercom systems and automated doors [that] can help restore their independence in countless ways.”
The Tunnels to Tower foundation was established to honor the memory of Stephen Siller, a member of New York’s Fire Department and father of 5 who died in the World Trade Center attacks on 9/11. Siller was off-duty and on his way to play golf with his brothers when he heard about the attacks on the towers. He quickly strapped on his 60 lbs of firefighter gear, and because traffic was so gridlocked, ran from the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel to the World Trade Center towers, hence the name of the Foundation established in his honor.
The Foundation holds a number of runs, golf and other events through the year to raise funds to help injured first responders and returning veterans. “In 2011, the Tunnel to Towers Foundation officially began the Building for America’s Bravest program (BFAB) to provide a specially adaptive home for the first ever quadruple amputee to survive, Army Specialist Brendan Marrocco. By the end of 2013, BFAB has the goal to have completed or broken ground on 23 Smart Homes for veterans across the country.”
Their partner, the Gary Sinise Foundation, was founded by actor, director and musician Gary Sinise in 2011. Its mission is to “serve our Nation by honoring our defenders, veterans, first responders, their families, and those in need.” Sinise played Lieutenant Dan Taylor in the 1994 film Forrest Gump. In the film, Lt. Dan nearly died during the Vietnam War and was rescued by Forrest Gump, - played by Tom Hanks. But his injuries led to the loss of his legs, and Lt. Dan then fell into a deep depression. He only regained his will to live after becoming first mate in Forrest’s shrimp boat as well as his partner in the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company. By the end of the film he is able to walk again with the titanium alloy prosthetics legs he can now afford.
Through his portrayal of Lt. Dan, Sinise formed an enduring connection with servicemen and women and serves as a spokeperson for disabled American veterans. In 2004 he formed the Lt. Dan band to entertain troops at home and abroad, as well as to hold fundraisers to support wounded warriors. The partnership with Building for America’s Bravest is one of the programs his Foundation supports.
Smart Homes represent a concrete, compelling examples of the power of technology to empower individuals. But, these homes are expensive and beyond the reach of most veterans. There is a long waiting list, and for every home built by the program, three more veterans join the list. If this was a growing business looking to significantly expand the reach of their brand, you would want to engage the most creative group possible to develop an integrated marketing campaign.
And, that’s what happened. One day Chris Wall got a call from a former Ogilvy colleague asking if he could help. Chris then enlisted some of the top talent he has worked with over the years to develop the campaign, shoot the videos and pictures and write the copy. In May they brought 13 of the vets to Los Angeles for the shoot.
The ourbravest.org website just went live. They are hoping to spread the word through a combination of paid and contributed media, as well as through social media. In the e-mail he sent me in early July, Chris wrote:
“I thought you’d get a kick out of a project I’ve been working on - it’s for a foundation called Building for America’s Bravest. It's a relatively small outfit - . . . engaged in the very interesting work of building homes for catastrophically disabled veterans. . . It is the most personal manifestation of let’s build a smarter planet I can imagine.”
“The technology exists to build adaptive smart homes for them - and so the foundation is trying to raise money to do that. . . I'm sending around the films we shot and asking people to have a look primarily because I think the story is very emotional and resonant and the more people who are out there telling the story, the more likely we are to achieve our goals.”