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Walking the NURTURANCE tightrope

Back in April, we saw a puppy running loose on a train station platform. A black Labrador, no more than 4 months old, bouncing around on its oversized paws. There was a boy chasing after it. “Must have slipped off its lead,” we thought.

Then we noticed the boy was actually trying to feed it some left-over burger. The dog seemed more interested in saying hello to as many people as possible.

Our children wanted to chase after it too. But the platform was busy. We were, in fact, at Tigré station in Buenos Aires, near the end of a family holiday. We’d relaxed a little about safety in Argentina, but we weren’t about to let our children run off.

By this stage, the dog had moved along the platform, out of sight. The train arrived and we climbed on. Then, all of a sudden, his face reappeared round the edge of the door. Pandemonium ensued. “He wants to come with us! Can we take him home?”

My immediate thought was of course we can’t, we can’t just take a dog, there must be an owner somewhere. And even if there isn’t, we’re 7,000 miles from home. And we’re going home the day after tomorrow. And, and, and…

The moment passed in a flash. The doors closed, the train pulled out. My son dissolved into tears. The adults looked at each other.

So that evening we researched rescue centres in Buenos Aires. We left messages. The next day we went back to the station and talked to the ticket collectors. Yes, the puppy had been there again that morning, it had been around for a few days. They said they’d look out for it.

The reality is, though, there are thousands of stray dogs in Buenos Aires. People put most of the blame on runaway inflation, although there are other reasons. More and more action groups are springing up and they have spurred the city government into extending its free spaying and neutering service. But the problem keeps on growing.

So we had simply come into contact with one of those thousands. Still, more than enough to remind you how visceral the feelings around nurturing can be - and how complex.

The problem is the guilt. We all know how that feels when you don’t think you’re nurturing enough, certainly every working parent does. But there’s another kind of guilt that feeds off nurturing too much. The more you do, the more you realise there is to do. When you take the lid off the world’s need to be nurtured, you see a bottomless pit.

So what does this all mean for brands? Many categories have a Nurturance need present in some form, sometimes near the surface, more often at a subconscious level. And deeper needs are where brands should go hunting for insight. There’s growing evidence that people’s choices are driven more by emotion than reason. So brands should be looking to make an emotional connection, one that sticks in the memory.

But it’s not enough to know the need is there, you have to discover an insight into that need. So with Nurturance, the thing to understand is that it can be like walking a tightrope. Everyone tries to find the right balance between caring enough and not caring too much.

And the brands that tap into this best are the ones that steer clear of guilt-tripping on either side. A brand like Aunt Bessie’s, that makes you feel good about providing a midweek meal with Yorkshire puddings. Or Ella’s Kitchen in baby food, who encourage you to think you’re really doing pretty well at weaning. Or any charity that remembers to tell you that your money did make a difference.

Because when you’re looking after or helping or protecting someone as they grow, you still want some sense of achievement.

Do let me know if you have any thoughts or stories you’re willing to share.

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