In the early 1970’s, Hallmark asked several celebrities to style displays for their flagship store in Manhattan. Fred Rogers, whose show Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood on PBS was becoming a success, was one of the celebrities who was asked to contribute a display. In true Mr. Rogers fashion, he took the opportunity to spread a positive message to his young audience instead of trying to market to them like everyone else.
Mr. Rogers’ holiday display was a simple, small pine that stood child height. It had no lights, no tinsel, no adornments of any kind. It was planted inside a clear cube where you could see it’s roots in the soil. A plague on the display bore the message: “I like you just the way you are.”
There that simple little tree stood, in the middle of a downtown New York store at Christmastime, amongst the over-the-top festive displays of other celebrities who had been asked to create displays. All those other displays had something to sell to accompany their display and no doubt the others who had been asked to contribute a display in such a prominent marketplace had been thrilled at the marketing opportunities such a display would afford.
But not Mr. Rogers. He wasn’t a salesman or marketer, and the evidence of his life shows that he really never cared to try and cash in on his success. He was a minister and educator, and the display that he designed is proof that he was genuine in his career’s message of supporting childhood development and not marketing to children.
Mr. Rogers once said, “Until television became such a tool for selling, it was such a fabulous medium for education. That’s what I had always hoped it would be.” I think maybe he might have felt the same way about the opportunity to have a prominent downtown display that thousands of children would pass during the holiday season.
Many businesses rely on the holiday season for a high percentage of their yearly income. And there’s nothing wrong with working to earn a living during a time when many people are shopping more than usual. But in a world where we are constantly being marketed to for products we don’t need, it’s refreshing that there was once a man who found fame on a children’s program and never once tried to sell anything to children other than the message that they were special and worthy of love “just the way you are.”