The game changers, the rebels, the disruptors – let’s celebrate the unusual heroes.

Working in the news industry, I’m all too familiar with the feeling of being surrounded by negative news stories. We are constantly being told that this is a time of concern. Whether it’s coverage of political instability, tales of economic crises, or the growing acknowledgement of the impact that climate change will have upon us all, we are inundated with messaging that tells us we need change, we need hope. 

Of course, this isn’t a modern phenomenon.  There has always been bad news and, as books like Factfulness by Hans Rosling have recently taught us, life for the majority is gradually getting better.  What has changed, however, is the accessibility of bad news stories, the increase in many quarters of sensationally negative clickbait headlines and the ease with which we devour them.  News has a vital role to play in democracy, education, community, and cultural awareness, but we must be cognizant of the impact that an overdose of negativity can have on us. As human beings, we require light from our information gathering, as well as shade. We need stories of hope to make us feel as though our world is a happy place.  A few years ago a study was published which suggested that people who only watched three minutes of negative news (in contrast to stories of resilience) were 27% more likely to report their day as unhappy up to eight hours later!  The topline takeaway is that we need to supplement the worrisome with stories of hope to make us feel as though our world is a happy place.

Whilst negativity spawns negativity, stories of achievement and audacity allow us to feel that there are reasons to be positive.  Hope is about believing that things can improve and, in order to buy into this, we need to be able to see people who are pushing for change, who are embracing obstacles because they know they can be overcome, and who are capable of making us believe that the impossible is achievable.  It is these change-makers that allow us to feel as though hope is not a waste of energy. Crucially, we must also believe that these achievements will not be isolated, that they can come from every corner of the globe, from any person regardless of who they are, what they look like, where they come from.  We shouldn’t expect this sphere of influence to only belong to the elite but should celebrate unusual heroes that allow everyone to feel represented and capable.

The world of fiction cottoned on to this quite some time ago.  From comic book superheroes like Batman and Superman, who overcame the loss and tragedy of their childhoods to save the planet, to the classic heroines like Elizabeth Bennett, who asserted a strength and independence that feminists have spent centuries catching up with, these writers understood the need to elevate rebels and disruptors.  We’ve been playing catch up in the non-fiction industries but are now finding ourselves at a point in time when we need to provide those same figures of hope and inspiration. As we move through the direct-to-consumer revolution, the brands that punctuate every moment of our day are as well placed as anyone to create awareness of these unusual heroes and deliver them to us, along with the hope they provide.  

My work with Great Big Story has exposed me to some amazing people through us telling their stories. An independent research body discovered that 75% of the GBS audience reported a high emotional engagement towards the unusual heroes we featured, with this positive sentiment creating an uplift in brand favourability and demonstrating that it is for the good of both our audiences and our partners to attach themselves to these disrupters.

As brands like Nike, Unilever, and P&G have shown us in leading the charge, advertising can be at the forefront of a shift towards positivity. We need marketing to make us feel good, represented and capable, to drive us from an economy of aspiration to one of inspiration. Whether it’s an 80 year old female body builder, or a quad amputee who scales mountains, it's incredible to know that heroes come in all forms and that, whoever you are, there is someone like you achieving the impossible.

Pippa Scaife is the commercial director for emerging brands at CNN International Commercial.