One of the most famous purpose branding initiatives comes from Unilever’s OMO/Persil and the Dirt is Good campaign, now operating in 78 nations around the world to address the play deficit and help children rediscover outdoor play. The notion that children need to get outside and get dirty through unstructured play is now a full-fledged movement. But there is still much to do.
In a new global survey of 12,000 parents in ten nations (Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Portugal, South Africa, Turkey, UK, USA and Vietnam), it was discovered that:
1. The majority (56 percent) of children play outside for one hour or less a day.
2. The problem is worse in the U.S. and UK, where respectively 65 percent and 74 percent play outside for an hour or less a day.
3. In many cities, playground space is increasingly in short supply. In Vietnam, for example, 700,000 children in Hanoi are sharing 2,200 playgrounds, of which 70 percent are deserted or barely used because they are in poor condition or badly equipped.
4. Eight in ten parents say that their kids often refuse to play without some form of technology being involved and 60 percent say that their kids do not know how to play unless technology is involved.
5. Eight in ten parents also acknowledge that their kids prefer to play virtual sports on a screen inside rather than real sports outside
So what we have is an imbalance in play. This according to Sir Ken Robinson, an eminent thinker on creativity and education whose TED talk in 2006 has been seen over 37 million times. “Screens can be a wonderful source of education and entertainment but children need to play in a wide variety of ways to exercise fully their minds and bodies… this generation is facing a perfect storm of inactivity, with a shortage of outdoor facilities and preference by many children to stay indoors, engaging in inactive types of play.” A recent Guardian article shares more on his views and this topic.
This June, OMO/Persil will be organizing the world’s largest Outdoor Classroom Day, aimed at getting kids around the world to learn outside. This takes off from a UK program known as Empty Classroom Day. Parents can sign up their children’s schools at www.dirtisgood.com.
There is also a dramatic film treatment, “Free the Kids,” set in a maximum security prison in Wabash, Indiana, in which inmates talk about the importance of their daily outdoors time. Toby Dye, director of the film, said, “Inmates get two hours of outdoor time a day, kids are only getting one. I am proud that we have made a film that works on so many levels, powerfully communicating the message in a non-judgmental way.”
One of the essential elements of the program is personal parental involvement in play. My happiest memories are with my kids at the park, finding pieces of used cardboard to accelerate the trip down the stone slide in Central Park, clambering around the jungle gym to hang upside down, playing hide–and-seek in the minerals area of the Natural History Museum (I was asked to leave the Museum once for encouraging my then four year old to slide down a piece of petrified rock) and hours of snowball fights or sledding. I am proud that our team is so deeply involved in the campaign.
This article originally appeared on 6A.M., Richard Edelman’s blog on trends in communications, issues, lessons and insights.