An Evolved Take on Psychology, Brands and Poverty

I'm not an educator. But I do want to teach you one thing in this article, and that is the function of your reticular activation system. It is a mouthful, I know, but you can boil it down to the much simpler R.A.S. for the purpose of an easier conversation. So what is the R.A.S.? Firstly, everyone has one. Now for the definition -- your R.A.S. is the system in your brain that determines what has value to you -- it determines on what you place your attention. On what matters to you, to say it another way. (I learned about R.A.S. in Tony Robbins' book Awaken The Giant Within.)

Many amongst us have Kim Kardashian high in our R.A.S. She has a value to us, she matters to us. Bless her heart, I don't particularly care. She's not on my R.A.S.

Others have their families and their communities high on their R.A.S. And I would argue that they should. Most people would agree that giving your community a degree of attention is normatively good, in addition to having positive effects that reflect well on yourself.

Lately, I've been asking myself these questions: What is it within us that makes us care for one another? Why do some care when others don't?

Here's the real question that perplexes me deeply: How do I expand the awareness of people so that poverty is within their R.A.S.?

All of which flows into what you might be able to deduce: Poverty is high on my R.A.S.

It matters to me. I care about the lives of people in India, and China, and Brazil, and Indonesia, so much that it doesn't -- really, I have to say -- make sense. Poverty has invaded my R.A.S., and it's there to stay.

Now think for a second about what tries to invade your R.A.S. all the time -- what tries to capture your attention: brands.

Brands want you to focus your R.A.S. on them. Like Kim Kardashian, they want to matter to you. But brands do more than just enter your stream of vision -- they define how you see the world.

When Nike is in your R.A.S., you know that what matters is sport, and competition, and training. So when a brand enters your R.A.S., what also enters your R.A.S. is what that brand stands for -- that brand's very identity. Walmart's value is just that -- its great value. So as it enters your R.A.S. you start to think -- what is the best value for me? When you associate with a brand, when you include it in your R.A.S., you also allow that brand's identity into your R.A.S. Over time, your identity and the identity of the brand merges as you focus your attention on the values of the brand.

Wow. Brands are pretty important. Like you wouldn't believe: businesses spend $450 billion per year marketing brands to you. They are spending $450 billion per year to enter your R.A.S. In other words, to matter to you. And inadvertently, to give your life meaning. So companies are spending billions of dollars every year so that you will define yourself in the way that matters to brands. Let's hope that these brands don't just appeal to basic instincts.

As human beings, we have an inherent desire to have an identity that matters. An identity that fits into other people's R.A.S., so we can connect. We deserve brands that appeal to our higher order thoughts, and feelings, and values.

So brands have a lot of responsibility here. It's worth thinking about: What if a brand existed that appealed to your highest hopes and dreams, to your highest sense of self? To take a page from Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, what if a brand existed that helped you achieve self-actualization?

Thankfully, there is a movement afoot in the advertising community to change how it enters, and so defines, your R.A.S. It's called prosocial advertising. As Mark Woerde persuasively argues in his book, How Advertising Will Heal the World and Your Business, people like you and me want brands to interact with us in a way that gives our life meaning. And so he identifies a $450 billion opportunity for brands to appeal to us in ways that give our lives meaning.

I'm a long way from talking about poverty. But maybe there's a connection here. Brands are a part of our life, and that's not going to change for the foreseeable future. Given that, what if a brand appealed to that higher calling? More specifically, what if a brand appealed to that yearning for meaning by working to end poverty? That's a brand I would love to have enter my R.A.S.

I write this not only to open your eyes to your R.A.S. and how brands play a role in shaping it and changing it. I write this because I have a dream. I want to create a brand whose core message is ending poverty. I've been inspired by companies like Product (RED), that generated $150 million dollars from brands to fight AIDS in Africa. Frankly, I think they have a pretty good business model.

So I want to introduce to you the newest brand, a brand whose chief aim is empowering people and nonprofits to end poverty.

That brand is Evolve.

Over the coming months and years, I will be developing the concept because I want poverty to be in everyone's R.A.S. I want poverty to invade the R.A.S. of everyone in the developed world just like it invaded mine. Because people, just like you and us, are suffering like you and I can't imagine. They borrow money in city slums, sometimes with rates as high as 10 percent interest per day. I want people to understand how they are exactly the same as the person in the slum. In that uniquely human way, they are no better and no worse than them -- they are the same. We are the same -- whether we make $50 an hour or $0.05 an hour (the hourly rate of many a poor farmer who earns under $1 per day). I want people to awaken like I did, to that understanding that we are all part of a global community. That what matters for him, and her, and me, matters for you. Because we are the same.

I know that many of us aren't there yet. But we need to evolve our mentality, we need to evolve our spirituality, and we need to evolve our capitalism to that place where we truly see each other as equals. And so I am creating a brand that stands for that evolution. That stands for a belief that we, as humans, all seven billion of us, interconnected, can end poverty in our time. So my writing serves to have poverty enter your R.A.S. And my brand will do the same. And my hope is that it will align with your core, higher desire to live a life of meaning.

I want to create a world without poverty. I want all of us to Evolve. Will you join me?