Act on CO2 campaign – Carbon Footprint

Student Work

This advertisement is part of the British government’s campaign about the reduction of CO2 emissions. The purpose of this article is to analyze it, notably through the concepts of Adam Corner and Alex Randall (“Selling climate change? The limitations of social marketing as a strategy for climate change public engagement”, Global Environmental Change, 2010). They approached this campaign in terms of communication strategy through the concept of social marketing and its shortcomings.

This video displays a particular narrative. It shows scenes of people’s everyday life. As they walk, they leave black marks on the floor looking like slimy disgusting crude oil. The foot-shaped print is a simple but efficient visual way to represent the carbon foot print which corresponds to the amount of greenhouse gas that is rejected in the atmosphere. Given the fact that, generally, people don’t have much time and attention to devote to the campaign because of daily information overload, the use of this striking visual element is quite efficient.

Carbon Footprint Caption

The scenes which could be very varied actually, mostly depict domestic situations. The one message is that every daily action, despite looking insignificant, affects the environment like the use of electric devices at home or the use of private car (with the synchronized echo of the song’s lyrics “polish your car” in the background).

This advertisement passes this message through the trigger of a soothing emotion due to the smooth music (The Kinks “Shangri La”), video editing and staging. However, it provokes also fear to some extent as the slimy footprint is always here. It appears as an important disturbing element in our secure environment.

Carbon Footprint Caption 2

The purpose of the environmental message –especially coming from a public institution- is universal. However, there is clear evidence here that the message is tailored towards specific viewers. The UK government seems to be willing to address the message to all types of audiences but it does not quite so in practice. Diverse age groups are present, but not the elderly. Diverse ethnic origins are present, but not many of them. Also, the video is very much centered on an already developed country and the middle and upper classes of the population. It looks like people who have time, money and who are more likely to have enhanced environmental consciousness are in the center. It is in direct contradiction with what should be the message for a universal cause. Moreover, consumers are the sole subject of attention here while they are not necessarily the only ones who are responsible for climate change. In opposition, attention could be turned towards the producers and the state. This shift of the responsibility and the blame game are interesting to observe.

More communication phenomena here are worthy to analyze. The only intervention in the advertisement comes at the end with the child who says: “You have a carbon foot print which contributes to climate change. To discover yours and know how to reduce it, visit”. It is so brief that this advertisement is not the informative kind despite making climate change visible. The use of a child’s voice is not a coincidence. Children represent innocence and purity. They also correspond to the future generation of human beings on Earth. I analyze this as a way to trigger a sense of guiltiness because the consumption of today is poisoning the existence of tomorrow’s beings. Nobody would want to harm children. The efficiency of this strategy is limited to my mind because too many communication campaign play on making people guilty, so the latter can become tired of such repetitiveness.

The use of the second person “you” in the short intervention is used to increase the sense of responsibility among the audience and to create familiarity. The purpose is universal as we said, but when we examine the fact that people tend to believe in self-enhancement values, this use of the “you” makes sense. The personalization can be therefore seen as an efficient tool. But, in practice, the lack of empirical evidence of the spill-over effect of individual behavioral change on wider groups is an element to mitigate the effect of this communication campaign (as Adam Corner and Alex Randall pointed out). In this sense, the video also promotes to some extent the concept of moral licensing. This concept illustrates the belief that one person’s small action for the environment makes him feel comfortable enough not to take other actions. This video indeed makes you believe that just a click on a link to a website will be a big step to change this person’s environmental impact. This effect appears as being counter-productive to the goal of the campaign.

Oriane Lemaire


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