When Gatorade released this Peyton Manning ad, we passed it around our marketing department as the kind of advertisement that’s something to aspire to. And there’s a reason why my coworker, who could care less about football and wouldn’t know Peyton Manning from Derek Jeter, found herself in subtle tears as she watched. It’s because Gatorade understands there are few things stronger than human connection. It is a universal language we all speak.
From the minute the tribute begins it’s made clear that this is about honest connection. Horses graze in a sun dusted field, framed through a truck window. A small-town football field framed with a craning harmonica drive directly at the heart and tell a story grounded in authenticity.
The tribute to the legendary quarterback wasn’t about his 18 year career. Not once did it mention his 71,940 passing yards, the 539 touchdowns he passed for, or 5 NFL MVP awards he took home (all league records, by the way). It wasn’t about any of that. It was about the relationships Manning made during his years in the league, expressed through a powerful medium—a series of handwritten letters adorned in Manning’s own rambling hand.
The letter recipients come from all walks of life. They’re coaches, family members, parents who lost a child to cancer, teammates and scholarship winners. They unlock desk drawers and open old ammo cans—the kind of places where keepsakes sleep, waiting for the day when they’ll be passed on. From the moment Manning’s letters arrived, they were never destined for the garbage. Keepsakes only become more powerful the longer they sit undisturbed, it is their nature.
We live in a digital world. It’s easy to move too fast, do too much and say too little when it comes to the important stuff. Manning’s letters remind us to take the time to reach people, and the quake in the reader’s voice is a reminder of what it means when we do.
A handwritten letter becomes more than a letter, it is a declaration. You’re worth the time. You’re worthy of stopping, of slowing down, of reflection and expression. Letters are hard to write because they make us vulnerable. It’s a pouring out that can’t be undone. It’s jumping first in a world where we’ve learned to hide behind delete buttons, filters and retouches.
We long for connection. It’s why we send stories like this one to every person on our forward list. If you’re craving connection, go create it. You can’t wait for someone to come by and kindle you. You have to be the spark that spreads the fire.
Find a sheet of paper and take the time to do what very few people will, but every person needs. Go say the things that matter. “I’m proud of you. You did it the right way. I’ve always looked up to you. You’ve taught me a lot. I’m honored to call you a friend.”