Being Brave, Kind and Honest…what we’ve been reading this week at Brand Genetics
As it’s Children’s Mental Health Week, we were struck by this quote: “Asking for help isn’t giving up… It’s refusing to give up.” The author? A horse! But not just any old horse. Rather Charlie Mackesy’s horse, from his inspirational new best-selling book, The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse.
The book — a story of courage, kindness and cake — is a modern fable about life’s universal lessons. Written and illustrated by Charlie Mackesy, it features the title’s four main characters: a boy, a mole, a fox and a horse. It explores their unlikely friendship and the life-affirming learning they experience together.
Visual Story Telling — and Courage
Mackesy was a cartoonist for The Spectator and a book illustrator for Oxford University Press. He clearly does his thinking visually, saying, “The truth is, I need pictures, they are like islands, places to get to in a sea of words.” He suffered a personal loss in his life, and believes the bravest thing he ever did was to ask for help when he was struggling.
So, being a visual kind of guy, he drew what he was feeling — a boy talking to a horse about bravery. He put it on Instagram, and forgot about it. But, along with his subsequent posts, his drawings and inspirational messages quickly became an online sensation!
His following grew, with hospitals and schools adopting his mantras, and even the army using his drawings for PTSD therapy. His musings helped people realise it can be a brave thing to show weakness, and his work is now being used to help tackle mental health issues. The book is now a Sunday Times and New York Times bestseller, Waterstone’s Book of the Year and Amazon’s second best-selling title.
Honesty — and The Meaning of Life
Mackesy says the straightforward, heartfelt conversations between the characters in The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse were drawn from “conversations I’ve had with my friends about what life really means, what’s important.”
“All four characters represent different parts of the same person,” he explains, “the inquisitive boy, the mole who’s enthusiastic but a bit greedy, the fox who’s been hurt so is withdrawn from life, slow to trust but wants to be part of things, and the horse who’s the wisest bit, the deepest part of you, the soul.”
These are universal feelings and human truths that unite us all. And they resonate because of the world we live in, and the plethora of events that feel outside of our immediate control — from Trump and Brexit to terrorism and the coronavirus. It’s a book of hope for uncertain times.”
The Power of Simplicity
The author is honest enough to admit that he didn’t set out to do any of this — it just happened. And it happened “from some gut instinct about how I find life very difficult.”
Has life got any easier with age? “No, I think it gets harder. But what I do find is that the more we talk to each other and tell the truth about how we feel — especially men — the more courageous we become.”
There’s no doubt that human truths expressed simply is a powerful combination. And the simplicity of the drawings — by a 57-year-old self-confessed “grubby artist” — cuts through with universal appeal.
Mackesy’s Instagram followers now number 297k, with every post attracting thousands of “likes” and hundreds of comments. And he continues to create direct interaction with his potential readers, by leaving signed copies on the tube, with messages such as, “if you find this book — I hope it cheers you up.” Random acts of kindness!
The Human Experience (HX) Learning?
Brands and businesses, more than ever today, should be true to themselves and be honest. They should be human, with a conscience and a heart. Any spin or posturing will soon be rooted out, and any visible sign of “the dead hand of marketing” will quickly betray trust.
Our recent global Gen Z research confirmed that the three top values for young people are Honesty, Kindness and Fairness. So brands should be authentic, they should care and they should treat everyone equally, showing a moral conscience, that values people and the planet, not just profit.
And brands, innovations and insights should also remember that simple is often best. Einstein said of an idea, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” So keep ideas simple — challenge yourself to express them in just a Tweet or a picture — and remember that less is very often more.
Andrew Christophers is Co-Founder of Brand Genetics, a global insight and innovation agency specialising in unlocking growth by thinking human-first. Brand Genetics’ global clients include ABInBev, Estee Lauder, Mondelez, PepsiCo, Reckitt Benckiser and Unilever. Andrew previously held marketing and innovation roles at Cadbury, Guinness and United Biscuits.