My son has spent the last nine years refusing vegetables. The sole exception to this anti-veggie bias has been broccoli, which he will only eat when followed by a chaser of orange juice. Yet, when Michelle Obama, Brenda Song, Nick Jonas and a host of his other Disney idols appeared on screen talking about the virtue of vegetables, he was transfixed. The public service announcement ended with us both feeling a tinge of elation. He said, “Maybe I should start eating healthy.” And, that evening he tried a new veggie (a crunchy turnip), not with anything you could call gusto, but he ate it.

So, for the first time in my viewing of the Disney Channel, I felt gratitude. I know that it takes a village to raise a child. Yet, during this juncture in history, when brands are globalized and ubiquitous, and TV and social media play an unprecedented role in the lives of our children, the actions of brands are also critical. And Disney is indeed a megabrand, serving as the number one network for tweens (the highly impressionable 9-14 year old group) and chalking up 1.72 million daily viewers.

It struck me that the joint advocacy between the First Lady and Disney around healthy diets and lifestyles is a stunning example of the ability of brands to contribute social value, shape public conversations, influence behavior and lead social campaigns. It is an emerging trend and one that is fraught with contradictions and challenges, for conferring public benefit is just one of several considerations that shape brand owners’ decisions.

Yet to ignore the potential of brands to play a powerful role in social innovation and social good would be to overlook one of the most hopeful developments of the still new millennium. And when brands make a promise — whether for the quality of a product or for advancing the social good — we, the people, must hold them to it.

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