Two years ago The Bezos Family Foundation launched a pilot program in Seattle to provide low income families tips and tools to make use of everyday moments, like bath time or breakfast, to build the kind of brain connections some of the most recent discoveries about childhood neurological growth say are critically important.
Since then the foundation, run by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos's parents Jackie and Mike Bezos, has worked with agency Johannes Leonardo to turn that pilot program into a brand called Vroom, and are now launching it nationally with brand partners Goya and Johnson & Johnson. Vroom tips and brain-building games will be on the new Vroom app, as well as on select packaging of Goya and J&J products, chosen for their use and proximity to parents and kids at specific daily moments like meals and bath time.
Jackie Bezos says that there has been so much new research in childhood brain development over the last decade and Vroom is an effort to get that information to the right people as quickly as possible. "Too often science ends up being nothing more than an article in a journal or, if you’re lucky, a mention in the newspaper," says Bezos. "So we wanted to take the science off the shelf and out of the lab, and into the hands of people who would benefit by knowing about it."
The goal is to partner with as many brands as possible so that parents will have quick and easy access to Vroom any time they have time to talk to their kids.
The Bezos Family Foundation has donated tens of millions of dollars over the years to help fun research in early learning, including to Harvard University’s Center for the Developing Child, New York University’s Parent Corps, and the University of Washington's I-LABS. The challenge was finding a quick, convenient and lasting way to get the information into the right hands.
"I think something like Vroom is a great way of branding the science," says Tara Glasgow, Johnson & Johnson's vice president of baby franchise R&D and consumer sciences. "The brain is largely developed by age three and what leads to that are all those little moments and interactions. As a parent it’s really great to know that these little things are so important, and realizing that helps you find more of those moments in your day."
Glasgow says that new ways of measuring brain development and imaging techniques have fueled new research in the past five years, dramatically shifting our understanding of early brain development and how important the little moments of time can be.
"We started looking at brands, because brands hold a privileged position in our homes and lives," says Jackie Bezos. "Often a brand is the only other thing in the room with a parent and a child. At bathtime, it’s just the parent, child, and shampoo. So we’re looking at how we can enhance those moments of potential, and that’s where the partnership with brands comes in."
One of the biggest challenges facing any charity or cause campaign is getting its message heard and keeping it top of mind. Johannes Leonardo co-founder and chief creative officer Jan Jacobs says creating a brand around the cause and partnering with other brands is a way to sustain the campaign without having to spend on TV or digital ads.
"That’s the issue all cause marketing faces, the media spend required to even get a simple message out to families is massive," says Jacobs. "And the moment you stop spending, the top of mind nature of the message goes away, life carries on as usual, and the problem doesn’t get any better. So we were looking for a solution that could look beyond any media spend, that lives in the homes of people, so you don’t happen to see a TV ad or billboard, but it’s there in the things you do everyday."
For Bezos, the goal is to go beyond a campaign to create a culture shift in how we think about our kids' development in the first five years of life "To be able to do that, we needed something more lasting than a clever PSA," says Bezos. "We needed to be able to say something bigger than awareness, and be supportive of parents to help them use the time they do have with their children in a really productive, brain-building way."
While there is the Vroom app, the foundation and Johannes Leonardo knew they needed to find a way to fit in to the everyday lives of parents without asking too much of their already stretched schedules. "Not everyone has the same amount of time to spend with their kids, but there are little things most parents do have in common," says Jacobs. "The things you do with your kids everyday—you feed them, dress them, bath them—so we thought those moments are natural child interactions and if we could be present in those moments without a media spend, it would be remarkable. Brands are already in people’s homes, so that’s where the power of this lies."
Goya's senior vice-president of marketing Joseph Perez says the decision to partner with Vroom was easy. "The more difficult or time-consuming aspect was figuring out how to best integrate it into the packaging, what products would be the best fit and be most relevant for these kinds of conversations with kids," says Perez. So far Goya has integrated Vroom tips on the packaging of four different products, including alphabet pasta and Maria Cookies, and will also include them on its site. "The important thing here is that it stimulates conversation between parents and kids, provides an opportunity to talk about other things, and lays a foundation for healthy communication as the child gets older."
Leo Premutico, Johannes Leonardo co-founder and chief creative officer, says they came up with a wish list of brand partners that spanned a typical day. "Goya right now is the meal interactions, J&J is bath time interactions, so the goal and challenge is to cover every segment of interactions, and how many brands we can get to do it," says Premutico.
The holy grail of brand partners, according to Bezos, is the diaper. "We’d like to have a diaper brand to partner with and put brain-building prompts right there on the diaper," she says. "With something like 8,000 diaper changes in the first three years of life, multiply that by the number of babies, and that’s a lot of brain-building moments a diaper brand could be responsible for. But it was about finding brands that parents use and trust already, and that’s how we got started with Goya and Johnson & Johnson."