What Spaghetti Sauce Can Teach Us About Empathy

Ragu - Das Original © by Toni Birrer

Earlier this month, Ragu spaghetti sauce launched a video Facebook campaign called “Ragu Asks” aimed at uncovering the mystery of how parents motivate their finicky kids to eat. The short, 30 second video content that followed was created based on responses from their community and the result was a string of hilarious videos depicting parents going to bizarre lengths to get their kids to eat, which as most parents know can often times be a monumental struggle. Although the content was extremely exaggerated and a bit absurd it seemed to strike a chord with parents through its deft blend of comedy and desperation to speak at what can often be a daily struggle that parents fight to keep kids nourished and healthy.

Legendary actress Meryl Streep once said, “The great gift of human beings is that we have the power of empathy, we can all sense a mysterious connection to each other.”

It’s a message that brands are quickly recognizing and using to establish emotional connectivity with consumers to demonstrate that they understand and sympathize with the intricacies of our lives. The days of depicting everyday people as super heroes if they use a product or service seem to be fading into a more nuanced brand approach, built on campaigns using more effective crowd sourced content, touching a nerve or identifying a heartfelt passion that is more likely to stroke an emotion.

One of the most amazing abilities that social media has given marketers and PR professionals is the capacity to delve deeper into consumer psyche than ever before. Through community submersion, we are now able to pick apart, analyze and create content based on emotional connections that are so often the motivators behind consumer buying habits.

Ragu and other brands are brilliantly executing these types of social media campaigns by mastering the art of empathy, an often elusive concept that others are still seemingly struggling to grasp. Empathy breeds compassion and a desire to help someone with a problem, and blurs the lines between consumer and brand by demonstrating that we are all often in the same boat in trying to find a solution. As Alvin Goodman, a Professor of Philosophy and Science at Rutgers University, once said, “(Empathy is) the ability to put oneself into the mental shoes of another person to understand (their) emotions and feelings.”

Any brand that ingrains in their employees the ability to empathize with their community is establishing a solid foundation for growth and can successfully build and sustain the component parts of their business essential to survival in the daily tooth and nail struggle for relevance.  From customer service to finance to support to marketing to sales and beyond, when you establish an empathetic approach it seeps into company culture and the ability to imagine the life of others becomes almost instinctive.

Learn how to be more empathetic. The next time you embark on a content campaign close your eyes and think hard about what emotion you are trying to relate to and use social media to query your community on what common problems they may have which directly relate to the need that your product fulfills.

What are some creative ways that you have used empathy to build your content?

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  • Good Morning, John! I love your approach; who new red sauce and empathy could be so conjoined?

    Wanted to also share, and I’m not going in search of the exact facts at this moment, this week in WSJ I read a story about research into “perspective.” Not the first time I’ve seen this; apparently, there’s interest in learning how people think and process data and then put it into buy decisions, etc. A marketer’s dream. I believe (this is where I get fuzzy) Microsoft has put dollars behind this research.

    We’ll be seeing more of this type of cognitive behavior, and your content above provides a great example. 

    • Hi Jayme! Thanks for the comment and for stopping by the blog. Ragu’s campaign certainly is a good reminder that brands had better start looking to empathy as the portal to reach their customers and stop trying to make their products and services utopian solutions to problems that they are sometimes quite out of touch with. Walking a mile in someone else shoes…it can teach us a lot. It harkens back to a tidbit in a post I read over at Spin Sucks earlier this year that a great way to train a PR rep for a new client is to have them spend time shadowing the client during a normal business day — true empathy building at its best.

      If you have a chance to send the link to that WSJ to me via Twitter (I will also go and check it out and see if I can find it) — I’d love to read it. Sounds fascinating. Thanks for sharing that!

      •  As a result of this piece, John, I just finished a post for today (wasn’t going to write) in which I link to Ragu/empathy…but something here provided fodder beyond your content. So, yes, will connect you to that post and will go hunting for the WSJ piece, too.

        But, real reason I’m replying back is this…a great radio campaign in Chicago on WBBM-AM I’ll never forget — it was about sweat equity — execs at companies side by side at frontlines with employees spending a few days doing what you suggest above for PR peeps. I couldn’t agree more; it should be the first lesson in learning a client’s business.

        • I think all of us can learn a little through sweat equity — what a great campaign. Reminds me a little of “Undercover Boss” but personally I think that program is too Hollywood. There should be “empathy tests” developed for all those in PR to ensure they truly understand what the concept means.

  • I believe that empathy is a key ability/skill/emotion that is fundamental to business and life success. One’s ability to identify with another person’s plight, challenge or feelings, and show true interest, is what bonds relationships and provides for solutions-based collaboration. Great post: seeing through the eyes of the beholder is something we should strive always to do. Cheers! Kaarina

    • Very insightful comments, and thank you for the kind words and chipping in Kaarina. “Fundamental” is an excellent way to describe empathy in the modern world. It used to be that it was “nice” if a brand or individual displayed any kind of empathy but now, its mandatory. 

      Your comment about how empathy “bonds” relationships…it truly is the super strength epoxy that keeps consumers coming back for more.

  • ahines

    It’s genius, really. Too often companies almost look down on their consumers, almost with a “Trust us because we know best” kind of attitude. While that attitude is informative, it is certainly not very relatable. We rarely like someone telling us that they know best.
    That’s why the Ragu campaign really was so genius, and companies will be so smart to start empathizing with their audience like that. It makes them seem inclusive, down to earth, and just like us…which is a little scary, because it means they’re playing our emotions to sell a produce. However, I think it’s safe to say advertisers have been doing that for a while! 😛
    Great post!