Often during this extraordinary 2020, I have looked to history for perspective or precedent. As we see projections of surging coronavirus cases and begin accepting the reality of colder temperatures and shorter days for the next new months, I went looking for inspiration. In support of both corporate brands and public policy initiatives, our firm works to create ways to connect people with a particular offering or proposition. So how about helping people see face masks as this decade’s Rally Caps?
For non-baseball fans, a bit of insight: Credited to the New York Mets back in the 1980s, the urge to turn your baseball cap inside-out in the late innings of a game was thought to have real power to propel your team to victory. In particular, the Mets’ performance in Game Six of the 1986 World Series is pointed to as evidence of its potency. I’m no expert on baseball, but as a public relations professional I can certainly recognize the signs of an effective tapping into cultural connection: calling for Rally Caps is a way to remind a large crowd of people that they have a common desire, a shared destiny. And win or lose, that thrill of connection stays with the people who participated. For those of us following the World Series in 1986 but not particularly caring whether the Mets or the Boston Red Sox prevailed, the rally cap phenomenon pulled us into the excitement. A national consciousness was created, and Rally Caps became a shared experience in ballparks (and all sorts of arenas) all over the country. Interestingly, when the Mets attempted in 1987 to essentially franchise the concept (i.e. own it and dictate its use), the energy fizzled. So what can we learn from that? Allowing people to freely associate with shared expression is more successful than requiring or prescribing conformity, at least in our American culture.
2020 application of this lesson would suggest creatively weaving ways for each and every person on the planet to see it as their opportunity to be part of something big by…wearing a mask. We have already seen some of what we need more of: fun masks; masks with hilarious messages or beautiful art. How to build on that solid start and achieve the kind of Rally Cap experience where anyone NOT turning their hat inside out looks funny and feels out of place (hey, don’t you want our team to win)?
Like the fatigue that comes in the late innings of a sports contest (especially a low-scoring American baseball game!), it must be acknowledged that we are, all of us, exhausted by the pandemic and everything else it created throughout 2020: loss of loved ones, economic distress, mental health challenges on a foreboding scale. In the face of all that, using masks to knit new or renewed social fabric seems such a little thing, even a silly thing. But maybe that is the magic of it. It is a little thing – we can all do it. It can connect us, encourage us. It can keep us safe.
It has been widely analyzed that in the United States in particular, the wearing of face masks became politicized. We can’t go back and undo that division, but we can find creative and motivating ways to move past that. We must. So think creatively for your brands, your communities of influence. Think out-of-the-box for the coming holiday season. We are heading into some very tough innings and the team working hard to win this contest against an infectious disease needs every bit of help and positive mojo we can muster. Rally Caps!!