Common Good Starts by Finding Common Ground

Many corporations share a common delusion: “If people only knew about all the good things we do, they’d think more positively about us.”

That’s why we see ads that feature smiling employees planting trees, cleaning up playgrounds, and painting wall murals with disadvantaged kids. (Bonus points for a rainbow.)

The problem, of course, is that we’ve all seen those images a thousand times, from companies good and bad, so we filter it as “corporate propaganda” or shrug with an indifferent “so what.” 

Exxon Mobil, which has fallen prey to same clichés, has taken a different tack with this new ad (or click on the play button above) that promotes its support of the National Science and Math Initiative

I don’t know enough about Exxon Mobil’s effort to tell you whether it is sincere or meaningful. But I’d give the energy giant an A+ for understanding a fundamental communications lesson:

Until you find common ground with an audience, you have no chance to work for common good. 

The common ground here? Anxiousness that the U.S. is falling behind in math and science, and that our school systems are inadequately equipped to fill the void. The common good: Better schools, better students, better scientists, and a more competitive economy. 

That’s an entirely different frame than “Exxon Mobil cares.” 

Dear XOM execs: Use this program to establish a real dialogue with people, rather than as another platform for pumping corporate platitudes. Then don’t ask for credit; let us do the talking.