Filed under: Advertising, Climate Change, Environment, Mother, Plane Stupid | Tags: Advertising, Climate Change, Environment, environmental, Mother, Plane Stupid
The falling polar bears have upset a lot of people. Thousands of angry YouTube comments, death threats to Plane Stupid, complaints to the ASA, and the usual outrage brigade in the British press:
- The UKIP MEP Godfrey Bloom told the Telegraph, “This is a graphic and hysterical advert which will cause unnecessary distress and alarm.”
- Climate change skeptic and “potty peer” Lord Monckton of Brenchley called the ad “a fraudulent piece of scaremongering”.
So far, so good: most climate change stuff slips by unnoticed – at least we don’t have that problem. More interesting, though not entirely unexpected, is the criticism we’ve had from environmentalists. This criticism runs along familiar lines – here are the main themes:
- SHOCK TACTICS DON’T WORK
Writing on Comment Is Free, Ed Gillespie was one of the first to question the ad. He argues that shock tactics don’t work: “the danger is that by pumping up the high octane drama of an ad, you increase the risk of viewers feeling manipulated and dismissing it as pure propaganda”. This is indeed a real risk – but what’s the alternative? A “medium-octane” ad would be easy to ignore; we needed to make an ad that would get noticed.
Messages about the damaging impact of flying aren’t new, but UK passenger numbers continue to grow. Many of these flights are unnecessary: Paris is still the top destination from Heathrow, with up to 60 flights each day – despite the obvious Eurostar alternative. Who are these people? What planet have they been living on? They’ve developed immunity to the usual messages about climate change: a more hard-hitting message might just work.
- GUILT IS COUNTER-PRODUCTIVE
Tom Crumpton of IdentityCampaigning.org suggests that making people feel guilty about flying may be counter-productive, driving them “to deploy other psychological ‘coping mechanisms’, such as projecting their guilt onto others (e.g. the response that: ‘it’s not my fault, when China is building a new coal-fired powerstation every few days…’).”
This ad doesn’t set out to make people feel guilty. Instead, it sets out to make people feel that unnecessary short-haul flying is socially unacceptable. Drink-driving is now socially unacceptable, thanks to years of government communications – including some pretty shocking executions. Flying from Heathrow to Edinburgh should be no less acceptable – no matter how many coal-fired powerstations there are in China.
There are 46 million domestic air passengers each year – and these numbers are increasing. Taking a domestic flight is sticking two fingers up at the environment: these are the people our ad is really aimed at. I hope they find it uncomfortable viewing.
- NEGATIVE CAMPAIGNS DON’T WORK
This really is pretty negative stuff. Many people argue that negative campaigning isn’t helpful: people disengage with climate change unless there’s a positive vision set out: too much stick, not enough carrot. Undoubtedly more work needs to be done to bringing to life a positive vision of the future: see my earlier post on this. But our ad isn’t about positive or negative: it’s about confronting frequent flyers with the consequences of their actions. We’ve made a piece of film that we hope will make them feel differently about jumping on a short-haul flight.
- THE “LUNATIC FRINGE” ARGUMENT
Plane Stupid are used to drawing criticism for their provocative style of activism: disrupting meetings, breaking into airports, custard throwing. Their actions have been described as irresponsible, childish publicity stunts. The graphic nature of this ad has been similarly criticized: writing on Do The Green Thing, Andy Hobsbawm says that the ad “reinforces [people’s] perceptions of environmentalists on the lunatic fringes raging against the system”.
Far from being on the lunatic fringe, climate change is mainstream: politicians and brands queue up to pledge allegiance. And yet short-haul air travel continues to grow. Polite approaches aren’t working. That’s why we’re delighted to be supporting Plane Stupid.
One of the surprising things about the criticisms we’ve received is the certainty with which people argue their points, as if there were only one right answer here. Well, I don’t think you can ever be 100% sure that a strategy like this is right, but I’m 100% sure that existing approaches aren’t working: public attitudes are shifting in the wrong direction, and short-haul air travel continues to grow. It’s a difficult brief, but we hope that this disruptive ad will be more effective at getting people to think twice before taking unnecessary flights.
Filed under: Advertising, Climate Change, Environment, Mother, Plane Stupid | Tags: Climate Change, Environment, environmental, Plane Stupid
Mother’s ad for Plane Stupid launches today. I’ve played it a few times to a room full of people, and there’s always a slightly stunned silence afterwards: it’s not comfortable viewing.
Plane Stupid are entirely focused on ending “unnecessary and unsustainable” flights, and we wanted this film confront people with the impact that short-haul flying has on the climate. I spent a long time working with WWF in Geneva, persuading them that there’s more to Climate Change than polar bears – but we’ve used them in this film because they’re a well understood symbol of the effect that climate change is having on the natural world.
It’s been interesting working with Plane Stupid, they’re a great example of a new kind of campaign group – highly focused and uncompromising, whilst knowing how to play the game. Here’s a few interesting things about them:
- Plane Stupid isn’t an “organization” as such, but a loose association of autonomous local activist groups, with no formal structure, hierarchy or leadership.
- They use good old fashioned activism to get attention, but are able to follow through with sophisticated media engagement (see Joss Garman on Newsnight or Leo Murray on CNN)
- Their fight with BAA is truly a David & Goliath tale, reaching farcical proportions with this story that BAA hired a “security consultant” to infiltrate the group.
- They were described as ‘extremists’ by the Government’s National Extremism Tactical Co-ordination Unit – and yet they share a platform with local conservative NIMBY’s and middle-England’s beloved National Trust.
Plane Stupid are sometimes criticized in the green movement for being unrealistic: people like flying, telling them that they can’t fly will only alienate them. Of course, the great British public like their summer holidays – but our film isn’t aimed at them. Our hope is to get people to think twice before jumping on a short flight, and to make the idea of domestic UK flights socially repugnant.
Filed under: Carbon, Climate Change, Environment, Politics, Public Opinion | Tags: Carbon, Climate Change, energy saving trust, Environment, environmental, Politics, Public Opinion
Will climate change be an issue in next years election? Unlikely. The green movement failed to make it an issue last time and this time looks like being even worse. Why?
Firstly, HSBC’s Carbon Confidence monitor shows a fall in concern about climate change in the UK – down from 26% last year to 15% this year. This figure is also much less than developing countries like Brazil, Mexico and India – prompting an excellent rant on Alistair Campbell’s blog:
Is that because [people in developing countries] are more used to weather driven destruction? Or because they have not fallen victim to the ‘not bovvered’ syndrome which says instant gratification belongs to the individual and any long-term problem belongs to somebody else?
Secondly, research we’ve seen by our clients at the Energy Saving Trust suggests people are increasingly confused about carbon – not surprising giving the confusing language: carbon offsets, carbon emissions, carbon calculators, carbon trading, carbon footprints, etc.
Thirdly, there’s no clear story for people to get behind. We’re lost in the din: all kinds of consumer brands are talking the talk; government messaging comes from the Carbon Trust, the Energy Saving Trust, and Act On CO2; and in the run-up to Copenhagen, dozens of campaigns are competing for public engagement.
Fourthly, climate change cynics are on the increase. George Monbiot points to an explosion of books denying climate change: on Amazon.co.uk, anti-climate change books currently rank 1,2,4,5,7 and 8 in the global warming category. The British book-buying public clearly wants to be told that climate change is some kind of conspiracy.
Finally, Armageddon really doesn’t sell well. As climate change becomes a reality, we can expect some public antagonism towards scientists and environmentalists. Worse than this, we might even expect people to consumer more: an extraordinary piece of research called “Of Wealth & Death” finds that people often respond to reminders of death by increasing consumption. They begin with a cheery quote form Tolkien:
But the fear of death grew ever darker upon them, and . . . those that lived turned the more eagerly to pleasure and revelry, desiring ever more goods and more riches. (from The Silmarillion)
I’m going to suggest a new acronym. Already we have SISO (shit in, shit out). Now we have DIDO (disaster in, disaster out): the more we talk about Armageddon, the close it gets. The green movement is good at disaster scenarios. Where are the gleaming possible new futures? If we want a positive response, don’t we need some positive inputs?
Filed under: Advertising, Climate Change, Environment, Google, Innovation, Mother | Tags: Advertising, Climate Change, energy saving trust, environmental, Google, Innovation, Mother, virgin
The first post on this blog talked about “Public Innovation Challenges” – such as the Virgin Earth Challenge, with its $25 million prize for anyone who can figure out a way to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.
More recently, Google’s Project 10100 offered $10 million for “ideas to change the world”. They were overwhelmed with over 150,000 ideas in 25 different languages. Google says it took over 3,000 employees to read them – and they’ve left the decision to a public vote which closes this Friday.
Our clients at the Energy Saving Trust are joining the party, helping to launch the Low Carbon Communities Challenge, a £10 million fund to help communities such as transition towns to reduce their carbon output. This may not be a vast amount of money, but it’s a progressive approach: encouraging and enabling local communities to take action has to be a smart way forward.
In the meantime, Mother’s ad for the Energy Saving Trust went live last week with a different kind of challenge: stop wasting energy. Saving the planet may be important to many, but right now saving money is important to everyone. Even so, doing an ad about energy saving promised to be deadly dull, so we’ve tried to add a bit of charm to it, in the form of Dave. Recognize the voice?