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3 Leadership Lessons we can Learn from Honey Maid

A few weeks ago Honey Maid launched a 30 second ad with the tag-line “this is wholesome” while depicting sweet scenes of family life, including making s’mores. Can you say “awwwww.”

And reflecting the diverse makeup of modern families, the viewer will see tattoos, a single dad, a same-gender couple, interracial marriage, mixed-race children….even musicians!

The backlash was predictable.

Honey Maid’s response to the backlash was simply brilliant. [see both ads below]

And in this market example I see three really, really, really important questions that leaders who aspire to excellence need to answer about their endeavors.

What’s the experience?
Over and over - in previous articles, in coaching executives, and with anyone who’s ever worked with me on their organization’s strategy map - I’ve highlighted that a critically important question you need to answer is “what is the experience you create?”

That is, beyond the specific function of your product or service, beyond your fabulous customer service, what do people associate with you at a feeling level?

Honey Maid is an exemplar par excellence. It’s not about the graham cracker. It’s about wholesome family togetherness. It’s about love.

What’s the story?
Granted, it’s clearly a set up. Anyone even slightly familiar with the attention garnered by Cheerios and Oreo ads in the last couple years could see this coming.

Honey Maid stepped right into it. They could have easily avoided provocation, could have easily made the ad less likely to provoke controversy. And of course it would be unremarkable, un-noticeable, unmemorable. Why would anyone pay attention?

A reminder: the purpose of marketing is to get attention.

And Honey Maid does so through a compelling story of turning comments, negative and positive, into a work of art. As it stands now, Honey Maid’s marketing campaign is a work of art.

How do you make the world a better place?
In a world overwhelmingly crowded with choices, busyness, and things, people hunger to make a difference. They want the companies they work for to have a positive impact in the world. They want the brands they use to reflect making the world a better place.

And this is as true for the local mom-n-pop business as it is global corporations. (Indeed, simply being local can be a compelling virtue.) Build “making the world a better place” into what people “experience” = sheer gold.

Honey Maid put a stake in the ground with an inclusive message about family. They also picked a controversy, and put a stake in the ground about how to handle it - with love. I’ve always liked graham crackers - so what. But I believe the values expressed by Honey Maid makes the world a better place. Whether you agree or not, it’s hard to argue that experience, story, and values command attention and a following - aspiring leaders take note.

* * * *
the original ad

the love response

a personal note
Over 25 years ago, as a family therapist and the chief executive of a family service agency, I helped rewrite our mission statement - to restore, support, and promote family well-being. To which we always added an additional line: family is understood in it’s most inclusive sense - we are all part of the human family.
Helping people expand how they think, and therefore what they do, is familiar territory. Many moons ago I was working to help people to expand their thinking about family. Currently my focus is to help people expand their thinking about leadership - but here those efforts merge.



by Tom Stevens (c)2014
Tom Stevens helps leaders create and sustain exceptional organizations. To contact him, visit or call 919-245-1026

This article may be freely reprinted in your company, association, or publication (or website) under the following terms: that the author attribution, copyright notice, contact information, and this reprint notice be included; and that you inform us that you are using the article (samples appreciated).
Contact Tom for a pdf version of the article that includes all three parts.

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