In an interview last month with Canada’s Globe & Mail, Fred Rogers Company president Bill Isler is quoted as saying, “We immediately felt very comfortable with the respect they had for Fred and his legacy. That is paramount to us.”
But when you consider the lengths Fred Rogers went to in order to avoid commercialization, allowing his music to be used to advertise a store is an uncomfortable fit with his sterling legacy as a promoter of non-commercial, educational television.
One Canadian blogger wrote to FRC about the ad, noting his disappointment and citing Rogers’ “desire to keep commerce as far away from his message as possible.” Another blogger wrote about Target corporate polices that “do not fit with Mister Rogers’ values of compassion and kindness and respect.”
When KDKA-TV reported on the Target ad earlier this week, many of the online responses were of the “what’s the big deal?” variety. That’s understandable given the upbeat tone of the spot. And in the entertainment business it’s not unusual for American celebs who would never appear in an American TV commercial to appear in ads overseas. It's a little different in this instance because Mister Rogers is not appearing in the ad but his music -- and this song in particular -- is so linked to his persona that it's not a huge stretch.
And when you think back on Mister Rogers’ unwillingness to license products associated with the “Neighborhood,” this turn is out of character for FRC, which has always been protective of Rogers, both when he was alive in the 10 years since his death.
Sure, there were books and records from the “Neighborhood” -- and a ride at Idlewild park -- but relatively few toys and other merchandise tie-ins. Admittedly, as a kid, I thought that was a mistake, so I'm not a 100 percent, anti-commercial purist when it comes to Fred Rogers and the "Neighborhood." I recall as a child being covetous of the models of the buildings from the Neighborhood of Make-Believe that sat on a shelf in Mister Rogers’ kitchen. I always wanted those items to be manufactured and sold at stores so I could play with them myself. I wanted to own a tactile piece of the show, the same reason people collect DVD box sets of TV programs that may get watched once or twice but usually just end up collecting dust on a shelf. So I don’t begrudge FRC for licensing T-shirts with Fred Rogers' likeness on them or with the non-profit company's announced plans for merchandise from “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.” If the caretakers of his legacy are going to deviate from Rogers’ approach, merchandise may be one area where he erred too far on the side of caution.
But using a song that is emblematic of the man is another matter. This particular song can't help but conjure an image of Mister Rogers, and that turns Fred Rogers into a de facto peddler of the Target brand in Canada, which seems wrong.
I’ll see if Isler can walk me through the thought process on allowing the use of Rogers’ music for the Target ad for Friday’s Tuned In column. In the meantime, weigh in with your thoughts below via Facebook commenting.
UPDATE: Rich Kienzle offers his own thoughts on the matter and some background on Mister Rogers and commercials.