Rob Schuham: Brand in Common at TEDxMileHigh (Full Transcript)

It was about a year ago that I asked myself, “What would I try if I had no fear?” Now, I’m a bit of a risk-taker in general. I’ve sort of grown up doing different kinds of sports, but I never really posed that hard of a question to myself, because I never really thought about fear before, so it never came up for me.

It’s kind of a heavy question to ask yourself if you’re just a marketer. I mean, that’s all I really am. I grew up inside large ad agencies. I ended up starting a few of my own. Both are still growing and vibrant and doing well. I think there are some people in the audience here today from one of them at least. I was having a lot of fun. I was pretty inspired. I was working on brands like these, doing some really amazing things, some breakthrough work. I was actually doing some programs that I thought were kind of giving back to the world.

One of my companies, I was working on the Pepsi Refresh project – some of you may be familiar with it. With another one, I was working on the Cliff Bar Two Mile Challenge, Ford’s Green Drive program, in addition to all the other stuff that we were doing. And I was having a blast. I was traveling around the world; I was seeing different places; I was having all sorts of different experiences. This actually is a picture of me at Wukesong Arena in Beijing the season before last, when I was cheering on the Nuggets at a Nuggets vs Pacers exhibition game. This says “Go Nuggets.” This is actually what I punched into Google Translator, and I’m really not sure what it says. It could say, like, “Chilled Lizard Beaks” for all I know. Somebody will let me know at some point in time.

But shortly after this trip, I had one of those crazy moments – actually, it wasn’t really a crazy moment, it was a very sort of rock-me-back-on-my-heels moment. One day I was home, and this kid comes in the door, and he said, “Dad, I hate marketing.” And I was like “What?! You kidding me? You seen the roof over your head?” You know.

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But my next reaction was, wait a second, this is great! My kid’s going to go to the beat of his own drummer, he’s going to walk his own path. He’s going to do what he wants to do. He’s not going to get into marketing just because his old man does it. But it was bothering me a little bit, and I asked him to unpack it. And this is what he said. He said, “Dad, it doesn’t benefit anyone except for the companies selling things. What’s it doing for the world?” Whew. He’s 14; he’s, like, never said anything like this before.

And I’ll tell you, it was a real “ouch” moment for me. And even though I’d been doing a lot of this stuff for a lot of big brands out there, and sort of checking the boxes and doing the right thing, and then, you know, cruising off on trip number 47 of the year, and whatever. It clearly wasn’t quite enough.

So I asked myself, what could I do with some of these marketing skill-sets that I had developed over the last, like, almost quarter of a century, and more importantly, what could I do with sort of my knowledge of brands? And what could I do that, in addition to doing these things for these giant corporations, which were all important and represented incremental gains, and as Hunter identified – I don’t know where she is – you know, hypocrisy is a start, but often, some of the things that we did for these companies became enculturated and actually became real, live, living, breathing programs that people rallied behind.

But was it enough? And around that time, Alex and I were getting together, and we had been voraciously devouring books and information and data, and sort of noticing around us at that time when we were starting Fearless Cottage that we’ve really hit the edges of our ecosystem, and you’ve seen this demonstrated tonight several times. “What was frugal is now wasteful. What was once smart is now dumb. And what was once business as usual must become business as unusual.” Now, don’t get me wrong I’m a capitalist. It’s the most powerful force on Earth. And it’s lifted billions of people out of poverty.

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But we know it’s in crisis. This slide’s an interesting one to me. I mean, it really shows you how the seemingly impenetrable and bulletproof middle class of America has been turned inside out and upside down over the last three years during this economic crisis which we’re still battling our way out of.

A moment on corporations: Now, we’ve heard a lot about Walmart. And Walmart is not necessarily the big behemoth, bad company anymore; they’re getting sort of harder and harder to hate. But Walmart I’m bringing up right now because I think it’s important to note that Walmart is a 408 billion dollar company. It’s actually at a size where it rivals nations. In fact, Walmart is the 19th largest economy, give or take one or two standings, if you’re comparing it on a GDP basis to other countries. That means that Walmart alone is larger than 175 other countries. It’s insane. Bigger than Norway – that’s about 381 billion in GDP.

But look at Royal Dutch Shell. Even at 285 billion dollars in sales a year, they’re actually larger than the United Arab Emirates. So it really gives you an idea that corporations are becoming as powerful as governments, meaning that corporations need to start making better and better decisions. And if you’re that big, don’t you have some sort of societal obligation in some way, shape or form? I’m so glad that Matt Groening was brought up in a video before. I just spoke because it will give us a frame of reference here – a little sandman action.

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