Marketing Lessons from ‘Reading Rainbow’

Unless you own a time machine, one of the best ways to reconnect with the past is through feelings of nostalgia. The people, events, and culture of days gone by can be relived to conjure positive emotions of “the good old days.” The power of nostalgia was evidenced last week in the overwhelming response to a Kickstarter campaign. The crowdfunding website is known for helping entrepreneurs fund new ideas, but a vision to resurrect a brand whose roots can be traced back 30 years: The PBS program Reading Rainbow. The children’s show featured actor LeVar Burton and enjoyed an amazing 23-year run. Now, Burton wants to bring back Reading Rainbow as a multi-platform venture that can be used in schools to turn on young people to reading.

The goal of the Reading Rainbow Kickstarter campaign was to raise $1 million, an ambitious goal in a competitive space for entrepreneurial fundraising. In less than a week, the campaign has garnered more than $3.2 million in pledges from over 72,000 backers. A revised goal of $5 million has been set, and with 30 more days left in the Kickstarter campaign it seems to be a safe bet to say the goal will be reached. As I have watched the Reading Rainbow Kickstarter campaign unfold, two things have happened:

  • I cannot get the Reading Rainbow theme song out of my head- “Butterfly in the sky, I can go twice as high…” I hope that does not last 30 more days!
  • Useful marketing lessons have been taught and reviewed. I share three of the most poignant lessons from my observations.

Passion Trumps Product

One of the most striking aspects of the Reading Rainbow Kickstarter project is the passion that LeVar Burton exhibits about the importance of getting young people excited about reading. This venture is not about being a money making venture; it is about transforming lives. His passion has attracted pledges, no doubt. Some critics contend the methodology behind Reading Rainbow is not ideal for teaching reading. That point can be debated by other people in other spaces. The takeaway is even if the product has flaws or imperfections, the passion behind it entices people to accept a product that may be less than perfect.

People Act on Affinity

The overwhelming response to this particular Kickstarter campaign illustrates the benefits of building a brand that is trusted in the marketplace. An analogy used to describe brands is that they can become like a trusted friend- dependable, consistent, there for us. And like a good friend, people like to take action on feelings that they hold for brands- telling others about their experiences, participating in brand communities, and of course, being a loyal brand user. Reading Rainbow fans happily acted on their affinity for the program by pledging financial support to the next generation version.

Brands Matter

Reading Rainbow may not be the most effective platform for developing reading skills, but many people are convinced that it offers value. That belief is cemented in the minds of millions of parents and children exposed to the program during its 23-year run. Those beliefs did not end when the show ended; the equity accrued in the Reading Rainbow brand continues to pay dividends today. Marketers should never lose sight of the fact that their brand is a powerful asset, one that should be nurtured so that it can reap benefits like those currently being experienced by Reading Rainbow.


Time will tell if the re-launch of Reading Rainbow delivers on the vision that LeVar Burton has for the brand. I like the chances of success because of the passion behind the brand, the affinity held by brand stakeholders, and the strength of the brand as a marketable asset.

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Author: Don Roy

Marketing educator, blogger, & consultant- Having fun with all of the above!

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