Warning: T-Mobile Video May Cause Spontaneously Bursts of Smiling.(Previously published on the PsychologyToday blog “Positively Media.”)
As you gear up for Thanksgiving, be thankful for T-Mobile because they have once again tapped into the joyful side of humanity. Following their viral homerun with the flash mob event in Liverpool Station, T-Mobile has produced ‘Welcome Back‘ that is not only exuberantly entertaining and ‘feel good’ but will have you looking forward to the holidays and, if not to traveling, at least to seeing family and friends. Although filmed at Heathrow Airport and shown in the U.K., it’s a perfect warm-up for Americans who are getting reading for the Thanksgiving holiday and braving the most notorious travel day of the year. Thanksgiving is a holiday whose sole point is to share a meal with loved ones and feel gratitude for our blessings. It’s not about buying things, hiding things, wrapping things, or watching a ball drop. It’s about the tradition of taking a breath, looking around you, reflecting on what you have, and being thankful. In a year that’s been very difficult for a lot of people, the T-Mobile video is a potent reminder that people and the intangibles of family, love, and connection are what matter most.
I loved T-Mobile Liverpool Station video and Trafalgar Square Sing-Along. I use them in classes as an example of positive media, as well as for a bit of levity to remind students about teamwork or to cheer everyone up mid-semester. But the “Welcome Back” video has psychological impact beyond the T-Mobile tag line of “Life’s for Sharing.” With an unfolding event of singing and dancing around the International arrival gate, the emotional impact is elevated by the implicit meaning in the act of travel and reconnecting. An array of arriving passengers-families and friends of different ages and cultures-are met with joy and song, creating a narrative that taps into our own memories, experiences, and emotions. The action contextualizes the words of the songs, creating a powerful and personally relevant experience for the watcher. The joy is contagious, but it’s not just about the performance-it’s about the fundamental power of connection. You can see it in the faces of the bystanders. Have your tissue ready.
Before you haul out your Scrooge hat and say that it is just a clever advertisement for T-Mobile, let me say this. It is clever. I wish all ads could be so clever. There are worse things than doing business with people who put effort into making positive social statements even in the support of a commercial endeavor. Good brand development, as it turns out, is kind of important if you want to keep the doors of your business open. I’m okay with that because, aside from the whole providing jobs thing, it doesn’t take away from the joyful experience and sense of connection experienced by those who participated in person or the millions of us who will watch the video and then, at the very least, think a little about family, travel, and joy, and smile at the next person we run into. Happiness is contagious, you know (Fowler & Christakis, 2008).
When we talk about the importance of social entrepreneurship and corporate responsibility, we often overlook the importance of the small changes demanded by the evolving culture of a connected society. A small shift can have big impact. Everyone who has ever tried to play an instrument, lose weight, build a house, train a dog, or been in therapy on either side of the couch knows that progress comes incrementally. We forget to credit to the small changes that dramatically change the trajectory of a line over time. The same is true of behavior.
When I watched “Welcome Back,” I realized that watching the T-Mobile video had jump-started my holiday spirit. I thought about next week, how my family will brave the roads and skies to crowd around the table, using every chair, the piano bench, and the window seat so we can sit together. We’ll give lots of toasts being grateful for each other, telling jokes and forgiving petty annoyances, and everyone will feel a little more connected. I hope T-Mobile makes another video before Christmas.
Fowler, James H. and Nicholas A. Christakis. 2008. Dynamic spread of happiness in a large social network: longitudinal analysis over 20 years in the Framingham Heart Study. British Medical Journal. 337(a2338), 1-9. .