Date posted: September 26, 2013
by Colwyn Elder (@colwynelder) In March last year The Lorax came to our big screen in all its 3D glory and with a star-studded cast of voices including: Zac Efron, Taylor Swift, Danny DeVito and Ed Helms. If you missed it, you can listen to the story here, a charming fable of corporate greed (represented by the Once-ler and his superfluous, but fast selling thneeds) and its consequent environmental damage.
Narrated by The Lorax who ‘speaks for the trees’, it’s a pertinent story and the cinematic release seemed timeous and considered, until you realise (or remember) that the original story was in fact written in 1971. That’s right, Dr. Seuss warned us against the dangers of not caring for our environment 40 years ago.
The fact that this film educates a new generation about the importance of nature and our responsibility to look after it is all well and good, but why has taken so long? My own Dr. Seuss memories are very much limited to ‘The Cat in the Hat’ eliminating pink spots with ‘voom’ and being encouraged to try new foods a la Sam-I-am in Green Eggs and Ham.
The Lorax is just one example of many sustainability related themes in popular culture. This increasing evidence is good news, a significant signpost that sustainability is becoming less marginal and more acceptable – more normal. By becoming part of mainstream culture it is less likely to be rejected as ‘out-there’ and more likely to be accepted by society as a whole. In his Green Marketing Manifesto, John Grant coined the term ‘Greenormal’, and talks to our role in marketing as ‘making breakthrough green stuff seem normal’, as opposed to green-washing, which is about making normal stuff seem green. Thomas Kolster, another prominent voice in our industry, calls it ‘Goodvertising’ and believes advertising has a crucial role to play in making a sustainable future more attractive, desirable, fun and accessible. They have a point.
Last year US fast food chain Chipotle won a grand prix at Cannes for its Back to the Start campaign. The jury chairman commented that, “the best winners at Cannes always have a message…factory farming is such a big issue everywhere in the world…for a fast food company to do this will, we hope, change the industry, change the world”. Creatives across the industry argued that its just great creative. And it is. Though one hopes that recognition at Cannes will not only go on to inspire a host more creative ideas, but also convince more marketing directors as to the creative opportunities within sustainability. This year’s Cannes results show exactly that with McCann Melbourne winning a record five Grand Prix for its Dumb Ways to Die train safety video and Dove’s Real Beauty Sketches from Ogilvy Brazil, co-winning the Film Grand Prix. To add to the sustainability metal, Y&R South Africa was awarded two Silver Lions for its Hope Soap campaign.
Interestingly, all three overlay a behavioural lens on a societal challenge and then apply creative problem solving, verses traditional models of ad persuasion. ‘Dumb ways to Die’ reframes metro safety as the preferred and socially acceptable behaviour – nobody wants to be called dumb after all. Dove’s ‘Beauty Sketches’ encourages self-esteem by holding up a virtual mirror that calls to question one’s self-perception verses reality. By placing a small toy inside a see-through bar of soap, ‘Hope Soap’ is designed to instill a habit of hand washing among children in a community where hygiene is an issue. It’s a very different solution to the more traditional placing of a reminder poster in a community clinic. Once again, let’s hope marketing directors are paying attention, as the creative opportunities for this type of behavioural nudging are as many and varied as societal issues looking for solutions.
At first glance, ‘Back to the Start’ appears to tell the same story that The Lorax does. It’s a narrative of big corporate take over verses taking responsibility, plus it highlights the importance of looking after and caring for our environment. Or does it? The Lorax carries a warning: “Unless…” and delivers a literal ‘seed’ of hope lest we end up in a tragic wasteland of I-told-you-so desolation. A common storyline in the early days of the green movement (see this 2009 ad for Act on CO2), but thankfully we seem to have moved on.
‘Back to the Start’, ‘Dumb Ways to Die’, ‘Beauty Sketches’ and ‘Hope Soap’ tell a different story; one that is less fearful and more optimistic; less about negative consequences and more about positive action; less finger wagging and more active participation. By involving people in the making of a better world, we are more likely to enjoy the prospect of a happy outcome.
Y&R strategy director Colwyn Elder (@colwynelder) has 17 years of experience in strategic planning, together with specific credentials in sustainability communications, social marketing, corporate social responsibility and cause-related marketing. Elder contributes the monthly “Green Sky Thinking” column on sustainability issues to MarkLives .