Posts Tagged ‘green advertising’

Some people think the “we” campaign is just a drop in the vast ocean of consumer advertising. In his New York Times article about the campaign, Andrew Revkin, quotes John Murphy Jr., associate professor of marketing at the University of Iowa:

“I think the global warming project media budget should be 10 times as high,” he said. “Both Coca-Cola and Pepsi spend over a billion dollars each year to promote brand preference for soft drinks. In this light, the $100 million per year to change our lifestyles seems pretty small.”

For some more perspective, here is the list of the top 10 brands with their yearly ad budgets – from Ad Age Top 200 Brands:

Is The “we” Campaign Just a Drop?


I understand the “we” campaign’s strategy of targeting ‘influentials’, and of trying to stretch their $300 million budget that way. It is a smart move, but cleverness can only go so far.

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On February 16th, hundreds of people gathered at Trafalgar Square, all volunteers recruited for a covert performance. At exactly 3.30 pm, on a secret cue, they all froze and held their positions for 5 minutes:

Now imagine, if the same performance took place simultaneously in strategic places all over the world, and at the end of the five minutes, all performers delivered a message about the climate fight?

Maybe the message is a request for all spectators to do one simple thing. Like walking the next time they have to travel a short distance. The real beauty of such performances is what happens next on YouTube.

During the ten days since it was first downloaded, ‘The Day London Froze‘ video has been viewed 559,ooo times, favorited 3,715 times, and commented on 2,588 times.

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Coming from JWT, my old place of work, the Ten Trends for 2008 Report has declared, ‘Blue Is the New Green‘ as one of the most significant trends for 2008:

From the 1980s onward, green has symbolized the embrace of jungles and wetlands and owls and dolphins as well as people. But even green has started to feel too limited. It’s now a subset of blue, which is coming to denote the much larger emerging new spirit of good-citizen ethics.

Environmentally, blue (denoting water) is becoming as big an issue as green (forests). The era of apparently limitless clean water supplies is ending. All over the world groundwater aquifers are getting depleted or becoming salinated. Rivers are facing overexploitation, pollution and silting. Oil spills, floating garbage, industrial pollution and algae blooms are impacting seas everywhere.

A recent report from the International Water Management Institute says that if today’s food production and environmental trends continue, water crises are likely to crop up in many parts of the world. Craig Donohue, chief executive of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, predicts that water could become a commodity on futures exchanges in much the same way as carbon emissions are traded today.

As it stands, hundreds of millions in the developing world have no clean water. Soon millions more in the developed world won’t be able to take clean water for granted either. Water management and conservation will rise up the agendas of governments and corporations around the world.

Water just might become the next oil. Yet there’s one key difference between the two precious commodities: While there are some alternatives to oil, there’s no alternative to water.

Beyond the water crisis, “blue” is becoming more prevalent in our consciousness. Take nature documentaries, the consumer agenda-setters of environmentalism. One of the first notable natural history series of the 21st century was The Blue Planet, produced by the BBC in conjunction with the Discovery Channel. It explored the oceans, which cover two-thirds of the planet, and put the notion of “environment” into a broad context for viewers. It played to audiences that were becoming increasingly familiar with satellite images of weather systems sweeping in from the blue of the seas.

Then in August 2005, the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in the United States got more people thinking about the environment on a big scale. Politicians and programmers started taking a serious interest in far-off glaciers and ice sheets, and the media was filled with images of blue-white ice framed by clear blue skies and icy blue sea.

Climate change has quickly become the driver of environmentalism 2.0, and consumers all over the world understand that climate is all about the seas and the sky—both blue. Environmentalism 2.0 is already a much bigger political and consumer issue than the 1.0 version, which was largely about issues such as deforestation, the ozone layer, pollution and biodiversity. And in some ways it is more immediate: While many people have never seen a rainforest, water is everywhere and conservation is more immediately actionable.

Almost unconsciously it seems, organizations and tastemakers have been tuning in to the shift from green to blue. Mercedes-Benz has patented its latest emissions-reducing technology for diesel as “Bluetec“. In the U.K., environmental specialists are favoring blue graphics and terminology, such as Level Blue Limited, a sustainability and environmental management services provider. In France, the “Pavillon Bleu” (blue flag) is awarded to towns and pleasure ports that meet all-around environmental standards, and the Blue Plan is a French-based project working toward a sustainable future for the Mediterranean.

Somehow, “blue” terminology and graphics suggest environmental responsibility in a more contemporary and credible way than “green.” It’s as if “green” became too strongly associated with “tree huggers” and the “beards and sandals” ethos of earlier environmentalism and with brands going through the motions of environmentalism (greenwashing). Now corporations embracing environmentalism can adopt “blue” without looking as though they’re jumping on the green bandwagon.

I agree with the report. Our blue planet is ill with a high fever, and there is more to saving it than plain old environmentalism. It is going to take a worldwide movement involving the whole citizenry to heal it. The good news is, all over we can see signs of citizens rising and starting to take action. Blue citizens – I just made up that word – from all walks of life. Lee Prescott at Wal-Mart, Al Gore, the Episcopal Church, eco-geeks all over the Internet, as in Do the Green Thing, U.S. Mayors, . . . All standing up for the planet, and the human race.

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GreenBiz reports on a recently released joint study from Yankelovich and Getty Images, the ‘MAP Report 2: Aspirational Environmentalism‘:

Firms seeking to advertise their green credentials should shun generic images associated with climate change such as polar bears and melting ice floes, according to a major new survey of green advertisements and consumer attitudes.

The study from picture agency Getty Images assessed 2,500 advertising campaigns from last year for its annual “What Makes a Picture” (MAP) report and concluded that many of the conventional images used to promote green campaigns were in danger of becoming visual clichés.

“When it comes to the visual language of the environment, we are in danger of killing it as a meaningful symbol with visual cliché,” said Lewis Blackwell, creative advisor at Getty Images. “The first lesson we must learn in order to grab any attention is to make Death to Environmentalism our mantra and kill off the clichés of ecology.”

Rebecca Swift, global creative planning director at Getty Images, warned that pictures of ice caps and polar bears in particular “will not resonate with consumers in the future.”

How to talk to people about green stuff

The report recommends that advertisers instead embrace more localized images that are relate more closely to consumers’ experience of the environment. “Whatever the product, the closer to home you can pitch the communication the better the opportunity to win over the hearts and minds of consumers to green products and behaviors,” it claims. “This is probably not good news for communicators who have been enjoying economies of scale in recent years by running global campaigns.”

It also advises advertisers to challenge consumers’ negative attitudes towards the environment head-on, arguing that campaigns should not shy away from addressing issues such as consumer indifference, concerns over greenwashing and resentment about the commercialization of a social cause.

These are important findings. At the same time, the study does not tell us anything we could not infer from previous research, and also good marketing practice. Advertisers and marketers need to empathize with their target ‘consumers’ – I use this term reluctantly, as I believe we should increasingly relate to people as citizens instead of consumers. Empathizing means acknowledging the reality of where people are:

  1. a combination of apathy, frustration, resentment, some of it that can be linked to Steven Running theory of Climate Grief
  2. cynicism and doubt bred by experiences of greenwashing
  3. guilt from being asked to make life changes that are impossible to achieve, given present solutions
  4. a thirst for information
  5. a physical reality linked to place, time, and personal experience; make it personal, make it local.

Practically, this means giving people solutions to real problems, not trying to force upon them products and messages decided by wannabe green marketers. The ‘Green‘ magic can only go so far.

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Ever since I read the New York Times article on Anarchists in the Toy Aisles? Stores Offer Unwitting Stage, my mind has been percolating with subversive ideas. Nothing concrete yet. Give me a little more time.

I am referring to the practice of ‘shopdropping‘, defined by its originator, the artist Ryan Watkins-Hughes, as:

SHOPDROP: To covertly place merchandise on display in a store. A form of “culture jamming” s. reverse shoplift, droplift.

SHOPDROPPING is an ongoing project in which I alter the packaging of canned goods and then shopdrop the items back onto grocery store shelves. I replace the packaging with labels created using my photographs. The shopdropped works act as a series of art objects that people can purchase from the grocery store. Because the barcodes and price tags are left intact purchasing the cans before they are discovered and removed is possible. In one instance the shopdropped cans were even restocked to a new aisle based on the barcode information.

SHOPDROPPING strives to take back a share of the visual space we encounter on daily basis. Similar to the way street art stakes a claim to public space for self expression, my shopdropping project subverts commercial space for artistic use in an attempt to disrupt the mundane commercial process with a purely artistic moment. The photographs act as a visual journal of my travels over the past few years. Displayed in nonlinear combinations the images remix the traditional narrative of the passing of time. The vibrant individuality of each image is a stark contrast to the repetitive, functional, package design that is replaced. Shopdropping gives voice to the pervasive disillusionment from our increasingly commercial society. A voice that is, paradoxically, made possible only by commercial technological advancements.’

I got a real kick out of this video by Californian artist Packard Gennings, another shopdropper enthusiast:

Ryan, Packard, and all the folks at the Anti-Advertising Agency, I think you are doing some awesome work. Is it legal? Scott Wolfson, a spokesman for the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission, said in the New York Times article, ‘he was not sure if shopdropping was illegal but that some forms of it could raise safety concerns because the items left on store shelves might not abide by labeling requirements and federal safety standards.’

Legal or not, count me as your definite fan, and soon to be active member of your collective. I am thinking T-Shirts, stickers on shopping carts and women’s clothes labels, pamphlets, with funny messages about consumption, carbon emissions, global warming, daily green actions, etc.

Any of you interested in joining, please drop me a note.

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The latest Pew Report confirms earlier data from a New York Times/CBS News Poll: that the American public still has not awakened to the reality of global warming as an urgent matter:

Global warming became a much more visible issue in 2007. Former Vice President Al Gore‘s crusade against what he calls a “planetary emergency” won him an Academy Award and a Nobel Prize. Yet the American public is not fully persuaded that global climate change is an imminent problem. Fewer than half rate global warming as a “very serious” problem; among those who view it as a problem, only a modest majority (55%) says it requires immediate government action. For liberal Democrats, at least, the environment is a top tier issue in the 2008 campaign. But it rates as far less important for other voting groups, including conservative and moderate Democrats. However, the 47-nation Global Attitudes poll found rising concern about environmental and pollution problems around the world, with many nations blaming the United States for these heightened global threats.

What this says: the message about global warming is not getting through to Americans. This is in contrast to the public in other countries. Environmental bloggers and environmentalists in general tend to live in a green bubble, and fail to realize the reality of the Not So Green Exposure problem that impacts the majority of the American public. Although, it may seems that the media are getting saturated with more and more dire warnings about global warming, the share of voice for the green message is still ridiculously small. Major contributor to the problem is the substantial amount of disinformation spread by conservatives and our leadership. There needs to be a more thought out green media campaign. In his post today, Andrew Revkin asks his readers for suggestions regarding ‘elevator pitch’ for global warming message. It’s a start.

Any ad agency willing to take on the global warming challenge as pro bono account? I am willing to pitch in, for free. Actually, I may even start to write an advertising strategy brief, just like that.

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Thanks to my friend Roupen, for calling my attention to this video, that was just featured today on Tim O’Reilly’s blog:


The black balloon certainly has the power to do more for our collective awareness of carbon pollution, than all I have read on the topic in a long time.

Part of what will help us transform awareness into action, is the internalization of such arresting images. I was thinking back on all the changes I have made over the last few months, and the trigger for those changes. Each time, it was not words that set me into action, but images instead, that I have learned to make mine over time:

  • No more beautiful green lawns for me, ever since I learned what it does to the environment. Now, whenever I see a lawn, I see an artificial green cover for what used to be a natural landscape of dirt, native grasses, and shrubs.
  • Something similar happened with my shopping expeditions. Last time, I went to Target, and passed by their latest Go Designer Collection, all I could see were not clothes to covet, but instead hideous man made fabrications, made in far away factories, and a cloud of pollution rising.
  • I have written before about the effect of ‘Synthetic Sea‘ video on my green conscience. It is now impossible for me to grab a plastic bag without feeling huge pangs of guilt, usually enough to discourage me and look for other alternatives.
  • Numbers can be powerful visuals as well. Not until I took the time to research, ‘The Top Three Green Actions to Reduce Your Ecological Footprint’, did I get a clear sense of priorities, and got motivated to take action and start looking for a bike.
  • Last, there is If it’s yellow, let it mellow; if it’s brow, flush it down

Advertising geniuses where are you? We need more images like the black balloon.

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