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Ads that don't cost the earth

Apr 30, 2019
In his most recent documentary, Climate Change – The Facts, Sir David Attenborough traded his quietly comforting tone for something a little sterner as he warned that global warming was humanity’s “greatest threat in thousands of years”. The fact that his call to arms was aired in the midst of global ‘Extinction Rebellion’ protests has given those on the green side of the argument fresh hope that measures will be taken. And with Earth Day taking place just four days after its release, it’s the perfect time to examine how companies use this event to increase social awareness while promoting their brand.

Ever since its inaugural edition on April 22nd 1970, Earth Day has given ecologically aware citizens and politicians the opportunity to voice their concerns and demand action – and the network behind its organisation estimates that more than 1 billion people now participate in some way. Whilst it’s true that many brands battle to show off their green credentials all year round, a potential audience of this size means we’re seeing more and more Earth Day campaigns that attempt to tap into our social conscience when we’re most receptive.

Apple’s ‘Shot on iPhone’ campaign has been running for a while, and it’s produced some stunning amateur photography to advertise their camera. But for their Earth Day edition, ‘Don’t Mess with Mother’, they tackled things on a much bigger, global scale. They equipped award-winning filmmakers with their best camera yet, sending them across nine countries, and the results are explosive – often literally. We follow them as they traverse the extremities of nature, from deserts to oceans, capturing rattlesnakes, tiger sharks and alligators in their most private moments. And to perfectly mirror the intensity of our environment, it’s soundtracked by heavy metal group Megadeth.


The New York Times

The truth is worth it – that’s the claim of The New York Times’ latest TV ad, centred around Earth Day. And the truth are they’re referring to – climate change. The short ad gives us a flyby glimpse into their reporting process. Investigating the impacts of warming seas on the Galapagos Islands, they let us know in no uncertain terms that their research finds ‘sea lions dying, fish disappearing, birds infertile, seas warming, and a giant evolutionary threat’. It’s brief but shocking, bringing us face to face with truths we’re usually only aware of from a distance.


From one campaign inspired by Mother Nature to another directed by it. Budweiser wanted to get the message across that its US beer is now brewed using 100% renewable energy via turbines. And for their Earth Day campaign, they decided upon a method that blends innovation with nature like never before. Using the National Digital Forecast Database, they tracked the wind in real-time and bought radio ad spots based on the towns it passed through. Once Mother Nature had decided their destination, they created custom written scripts for each stop on the journey. This went on for 96 hours, covering five states, 24 towns and over 1,000 miles, as well as a town with a population of zero. Despite this, the overall goal was achieved – to push the value of sustainability and drive conversations about how we protect the world on Earth Day.

But does it work? Do consumers want to see brands speak with a more social and responsible voice? The data suggests they do, with 81% agreeing there is an appropriate time for brands to address environmental issues. So clearly, timing has a factor. But so too does authenticity. For brands like Apple, Budweiser and The New York Times, you can see the work that’s going on behind their campaigns, you see the substance and the effort to address the issues they’re discussing, and that’s vital to any
long-term success – both for the brand and the world.

If these campaigns do have the impact they’re intended do, they’ll play a real part in protecting our planet – preserving the tropical birds’ through the rainforest… the fanfare of elephants across the South African plains, and all the other unique sounds of nature we’ve come to treasure. And that’s something not only us, but everyone, should be thankful for.