Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables Campaign against food waste by Intermarché

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We throw 300 million tons of food each year. Much of this wasted food never reach the markets not our plates for the simple reason that their appearance is unconventional, unattractive and clearly do not meet the desirable standards for sale. The release of this news had encouraged the European Union to make 2014 the year against food waste.  It did not fall unto deaf ears. Intermarché, the third biggest grocery store in France, came up in early 2014 with an uncommon campaign that sought out to minimize food waste. The “Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables”, or “Fruits et Légumes Moches” promotes the ‘ugly’ green produce that is too often thrown away by growers because it is considered unfit for consumption.

Intermarché proposed to help prevent food waste by proving its customers that “ugly” fruits and vegetable were simply as healthy-to-eat and delicious as their “beautiful” counterparts. This slick initiative was based on a serious message aimed at reducing food waste, which was designed in a manner that was likely to encourage customers to change their consumption habits at the moment of the campaign.

The campaign by Intermarché was produced by advertising agency Marcel and the photographer Patrice de Villiers. 7 posters were produced, each of them starring the unattractive produce to go alongside it. The posters displayed images of the “grotesque apple”, the “ridiculous potato”, the “hideous orange”, the “failed lemon”, the “disfigured eggplant”, the “ugly carrot”, and the “unfortunate clementine”. The success of this campaign can be attributed to the funny way in which images of greens have be personified. A particular attention has been paid to give characters to each fruit or vegetable on posters. In an interview, the photographer reported that ‘The most vital element was ensuring the “strange but lovable” theme shone through I spent time observing our uglies trying to find the precise angle which showed both their “ugliness” and their loveliness, finding their unique character.’

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The initiative was first conducted in only one Intermarché store in Provins, to test its efficiency. entire aisles in store were cleared to make room for the “inglorious fruits and vegetables”, and marketed the less-than-desirable product with special signage and labels. Intermarché put its efforts into the campaign’s visibility in the store itself, with additional animation proposed to customers at the entrance. orange juice and carrot soup were distributed in-store, and several packaged dishes ready-to-cook made from the produce were on sale. Last, but not least, Intermarché gave the produce a 30 per cent markdown.

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The campaign was an immediate success. Within 2 days, 1,2 tons of produce was sold at the store in Provins, and store traffic has increased by 24%. France is a fertile ground to launch such “changing consumers’ habits initiatives” because the government has since many years oriented his efforts towards raising awareness about the necessity to “eat 5 fruits and vegetables a day”. Intermarché clearly played on that field, since this slogan has been taken back in their “inglorious” headlines. Several other French food groceries have since joined the movements, with the “Quoi ma gueule?” (“So what about my look?”) label, that also sells “unattractive” products at discount prices. Leclerc French supermarket started to commercialise “soup kits”, with the right quantities of “unattractive vegetables” already packed for soups. However, the commercial-awareness campaign has reached far beyond France’s public, via social media. The video, displayed on Youtube and created by advertising company Marcel, records millions of views internationally with full success.

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It is very likely that the offer of discount prices for unattractive vegetables have provided an ultimate incentive to customers. People are probably as much concerned with saving the planet as with saving their own money. If this campaign is thus successful in preventing – at a small scale –  food waste at distribution step, it does not target waste at consumption. It even risks having the reverse effect of encouraging customers to acquire greater quantities because produce is marketed “on sale”.

Although interesting in itself, the initiative remains market-oriented and does not aim at being applied to all Intermarché stores, neither is it going to be extended in time. Intermarché admitted that the organisation obstacles with producers were too complicated. The company is more of a free-rider in the positive wave of awareness on the issue of food waste, since it managed to reach more customers and more revenue from produce saved from waste, but does not question the root causes of the system. It’s rather taking advantage of it, implicitly blaming other food grocery chains and food producers for contributing to food waste. It’s an opportunity for Intermarché to redefine its image after the scandal of deep-sea fishing denounced by GreenPeace in January 2014, which made bad publicity for the corporation’s concern with sustainable development issues.

Actually, initiatives to reduce food waste are ones that really enable to save money, for produced, distributors, and consumers alike. On one hand, the sale of products at apparent discount prices is probably the ultimate incentive that encouraged consumers to turn to the inglorious fruits and vegetables. On the other, the campaign’s strength has been not to make customers feel guilty, but rather proud for their contribution to prevent food waste. This commercial effort has the advantage of revealing that consumers tend to be receptive to the issue of food waste, but lack opportunities to consume differently. Providing alternative options of consumption is a big part of changing customers’ habits.


Water is food? Food is energy?

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Screenshot from  This post is not about an awareness campaign but on some infographics that aim at making alimentary diets’s environmental footprint more visible. An infographic is a visual explanation of complex information and data intended to make them more easily understandable, following a particular analytical approach, and often on the basis of cognitive elements.

The concept of “ecological footprint” was first coined by the Canadian researcher William Rees in 1992. It can be simply defined as the human impact on the environment. In this way, following his environmental consciousness, a normal individual in an industrialist society may adopt various behaviours so as to reduce his ecological footprint. Apart of transportation and energy issues, a daily choice for everybody is the one of food. Indeed, a particular diet may have consequences for your body, but also for the environment, following how the food was produced.

An Italian graphic artist, Angela Morelli, hence suggests that “you eat 3496 litres of water everyday” (as far as you is a meat-eater). She interestingly presents the implications of a daily meat diet in terms of water consumption. Indeed, if water for domestic consumption is visible, there would however be two invisible additional parts in our daily water consumption. First, the water used for industrial products, such as paper, cotton and clothes. Second, and by far the most important, the water to product the food we consume, which would amount to 3496 litres. “92% of the water we use is invisible and is hidden in our food!” Following this concept, referred to as “virtual water” by the British geographer Anthony Allan, it would take 15,400 litres to produce 1 kg of beefsteak – including water for the production of grains and roughages, the water for the animal to drink along its three years of industrial life, and the water for servicing the farmhouse and for slaughtering. To make this more visually striking, Angela Morelli has decided to represent this 15,400 litres of water hidden in a 1kg steak by a wall of as much (plastic) bottles – covering in the end 8 by 40 metres.

So to make the world more water secure, Angella Morelli suggests – if your are not already vegetarian (or vegan) by political conviction – to start with “one meat-free-day a week!”. Indeed, the average daily water consumption of a meat-eating person would amounts to 5,000 litres, twice the average of a vegetarian. Then, a meat eater should choose “meat raised on grass”, like sympathetic sheep, not “corn-fed beef” raised in the intensive agri-industry. Ultimately, you should not waste food because wasting food is also wasting water.

Of course, apart from a water footprint, our food choices – our rather our protein choices – have also a carbon footprint and an impact on climate change. The US-based Environmental Working Group (EWG) has published a meat eater’s guide online for people to assess the climate impact of their food choices. Indeed, the climate impacts of industrial meat production and consumption are multiple, in terms of greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions and harm to the environment. From digestion-generated methane (a GHG 25 times more potent than CO2) and manure (air and water pollution by animal waste) to feed production (including fertilizers, fuel, pesticides and water used for cropland) and processing (farmhouses and slaughterhouses activities), as well as transportation (of animals, supplies and retail products) and conservation (in supermarkets and at home), the production channel of industrial meat reveals not quite environmentally-friendly. Here also, CleanMetrics (the partners of EWG) has designed an interesting infographic to represent the carbon footprint of various foods compared with the distance made with a car.

This idea of ecological footprint can be related the one of entropy. Indeed, in his 2011-book, The Third Industrial Revolution (Palgrave Macmillan), Jeremy Rifkin (pp.198-203) draws a parallel between the concept of entropy (the thermodynamic transformation process by which energy is lost in the process of energy production itself) and the food chain in a complex and industrial civilisation. Describing the “energy that goes into a beefsteak” into eleven steps, he shows that the conversion process is ridiculous compared to the “expenditure of energy to grow the feed, fatten the animal, package the cuts, and send them to their final destination on the family table”, to ultimately be digested by the body and returned to the environment as waste.

So on one hand there is the energy consumption induced by the industrial processes, and on the other there is the simple “entropy bill”. The latest would account for about 18% of GHG emissions generated by cattle and livestock in general, because of nitrous oxide and methane emissions (which the global warming effect is way more important than carbon dioxide). It would be the second leading source of climate change, behind buildings and before worldwide transportation.

Jeremy Rifkin, to clarify a “fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of wealth” and to provide a larger intellectual opening, proposes to analyse GDP – generally associated with the measure of the wealth generated by a country – from a thermodynamic point of view: GDP would become a “measure of the temporary energy value embedded in the goods or services and an accumulation of entropic waste”, or a gross domestic cost. If we analyse the economic progress as an “entropy stream”, then economic growth become impossible, “since every time resources are consumed, a portion becomes unavailable for future use”.

The value of a good, and particularly food, is temporary, but its cost for environment is ever-long lasting. To conclude, we may say that infographics may simplify too much the implications of one’s food choice, even if they make it well visible. Indeed, if water is food, are we also eating carbon emissions? According to most media, and even the UN, on a long term basis, we should in fact better prepare for eating insects.

Carbon Story’s “World Under Water” interactive campaign

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The campaign:

World Under Water is an online campaign prepared for Carbon Story, a crowdfunding website dedicated to environmental projects; it has been up and running since May 2014 and was set up in the context of the UNEP World Environment Day 2014 (06/05/2014), directly echoing its motto: “Raise your voice, not the sea level !”.

The video displayed above is an introduction to the campaign, however it is highly recommended that you check out the actual website by yourself.

Indeed, it is all about participative visualization as the user has a chance to explore various global cities and world heritage landmarks as if the seas would have arisen up to their worst 2100 predicted level. Furthermore, on toolbar allows the user to go to any address of his/her choice to observe the impact of climate change on known neighborhood.

The user has then the possibility to “take action”, that is: he or she is redirected towards Carbon Story’s very own website.

The story behind:

Carbon Story is a young joint venture (started late 2012) by three tech-savvy, PhD holders teaching about environmental issues in South-East Asia; even today it remains a business operated at a modest intensity and mostly by volunteers. Carbon Story’s rationale for action is simple: it allows you to calculate your own carbon footprint and then it offers to crowdfund projects allowing you to offset this footprint for a given period of time.

In short, they have the best intentions and a business model that is not a predatory one – to say the least. This is maybe why they called in the Big Guns to help them gaining visibility. Indeed, they used their local network to reach out Proximity in Singapore, which in turn rang the New York and San Francisco teams of BBDO (both agencies are property of Omnicom, the second largest communication group behind WPP). In the end, what started as a geeky way of doing things took the shape of a massively legible, global campaign.

Indeed BBDO put a great effort into it and was able to use Google’s data of StreetView mapping, thus attracting a John Doe-like crowd who just wanted to see “how it is” rather than only people interested in the UNEP World Environment Day.

Did it work?

Yes it did! The campaign initiated by a small crowdfunding platform in Singapore ended up having a global outreach (it is featured on this blog after all) and was awarded during prestigious tech events such as the SXSW. It was a win-win for all parties involved, Carbon Story raising its profile, Omnicom showcasing its skills and the World Environment Day, needing, as many UN campaigns, to gain some visibility..

But is it a good tool to visualize climate change?

Here a more nuanced opinion is allowed; the result counts as well as the processes. Benefits for all parties have been acknowledged it brings some food for thought to the table; a technical component resonating with both new, easily accessible, technologies (StreetView) are well a global potential outreach (many locations, easily shareable on social networks) are assets to spread the word on climate and should credited to World Under Water.

However, and trying to avoid the usual blame game where “corporate interests are always beating the common good”, there are issues with this campaign.

Living outside of North America and South-East, just try to type in your address: you may end up with a black screen, as your address has not been mapped. This reveals the major flaw of the campaign: it could have combined the good (and true) will of Carbon Story with a powerful pedagogical tool. It could have pushed the “one event-one shot” campaign logic beyond the brinks and established a reference website for individual experience-based attempts at raising awareness on climate change.

But in the end, this is a just website that is going to be lost in depth of the internet after a while, and I have the intuition that the folks at Carbon Story partly regret it.

Up to anyone with the skills and the interest to bolster the website with more precise data and to make it a reliable tool to understand the rise of sea levels.

Rainforest Alliance Campaign “Follow the Frog”

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“Follow the Frog” is part of the 10-months Rainforest Alliance Campaign “compelling editorial content, contests and a dynamic social media campaign to call attention to some of the world’s greatest challenges”; it aims to raise awareness on ecological challenges, such as deforestation, climate change, poverty, water quality and fare-trade.

The campaign: it is framed within the branded content marketing strategy. This strategy is an entertainment-based mean to give the brand an opportunity to communicate its image and/or program to its target audience in an original way, by creating positive links between the product and the program. By doing so, Rainforest Alliance made the relation between following –and buying- the frog products and “saving the planet”.


The objectives: the Follow the Frog campaign aims to connect people from all around the world to “build a better tomorrow through their everyday actions”. This means promoting sustainable farming, urban farming, recycling, community forest management, etc., through the choosing and acquisition of certified- sustainable-fare-trade-ethically produced goods sold by the partner companies of the Rainforest Alliance.


The ad: the 3 min commercial tries to connect with people’s daily lives. You are a good person, you do things “right”, you have a family, you have a job, and you try to be an ecologically responsible person by separating trash and driving an electric car. However, one day you realize that despite your efforts, outside your middle-class world, forests and wildlife are being destroyed. Rainforest Alliance tells you that you are not going to leave your comfortable life to change the world, but you can add to your current efforts and buy their products to make the world better. As we said, the campaign tries to connect with the American middle class type. The guy in the video is a young professional who tries to do his best to stay green, however, he could do even better by “following the frog” (without scarifying his family, job, lifestyle).

Although the idea is good in the sense that if we follow the frog we would at least “do something”, the final message is about not really changing our habits or behaviors. The story of the ad is a story of prejudice (for instance, against the “un-civilized” indigenous peoples of the South); of comfortability (why should I quit my lifestyle if nothing is gonna change in the end?); and of unawareness (of the more macroeconomic reasons that lead to indiscriminate forestry, global warming, unfair trade, etc.: consumerism).

Is “Follow the Frog” really visibilizing the invisible, or is it just keeping the invisible just as it is? I would say it is only fooling us by making us think, with a super entertaining and funny ad, that consuming is the way to fight social injustice and tackle ecological challenges. Instead -even if it’s more difficult- we could start by changing our behaviors towards consumption; by being more austere and alternative in the ways we eat, move, live and buy.

When Sea Levels Attack ! How long have we got ?

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This info graphic is the work of London-based author, writer and designer David  McCandless and his team. David McCandless’ work focuses on representing data in the most beautiful and readable way in order for the general public to understand complex issues at a glance. As it happens, his project –Information is Beautiful, accessible at has a couple of climate change-related creations which totally fit what we are interested in on this website: making the invisible visible and the complexity of climate change issues understandable. Of all his climate change-related work my personal preference goes for the above info graphic.

It should be pretty clear to the reader by now that this info graphic is about sea-level rising; in case the marine blue does not constitute a sufficient indication, the author has been kind enough as to add a small evocative boat on the upper-left side to make sure no-one is completely at sea. The gradation of  the blue is, I believe, remarkably well thought: it goes from deep blue to clear blue sky, as if the sea could just rise so much that it would fill up the entire universe and reach the sky. In black color, the author has put fourteen cities that should feel threatened by sea-rising; on the left, the most at risk is expectedly Venice. On the far right we find New York, London and Taipei, which are at risk if we’re optimistic enough to think we’ll still be here in a thousand years time. The point of the picture is to make tangible what is otherwise hard to imagine: the risk that these big coastal cities we all know about, face is very much real and maybe we should start worrying about it. McCandless is trying to show that we can be touched by climate change personally and that we’re all on the same boat (to keep up with bad plays on words). The Jaws-like title (‘When Sea Levels Attack! How long have we got?’) adds to the general feeling of urgency we feel when looking at this alarming info graphic.

I did feel something that relate to urgency when I first looked at the info graphic; yet a closer look caused my eyebrows to raise.

It is hard to get around the fact that two ugly white stripes slash the blue sea background, and it took me a while before realizing what actual information it was meant to convey. Each of them represents a gap of several meters, twelve for the first stripe, sixty for the second one (a fairly big difference and yet stripes are identical in size). These strips also represent a jump in time of about 500 and 7000 years respectively.  In my opinion, it greatly weakens the message of the info graphic, and it feels like it actually misses its target. Sea levels rising is certainly a long-term problem, but there is no need to look so far into the future to find alarming examples of threatened places: The Maldives are deemed inhabitable by 2100 if nothing is done to prevent climate change; the sea is also likely to swallow part of Nigeria’s coastal cities way before it starts to even timidly lick London’s feet; the info graphic leaves no place for Pacific coasts despite their very high vulnerability.

In fact, McCandless’s conscious focus on major global cities is done at the expense of less-known places which would benefit from greater political attention. Apart from Shanghai and Taipei, the cities presented here are only Western cities. It may be argued that this was done in order to retain the reader’s maximum attention and make him feel that he is also likely to be affected by sea level rising, but if that was the case then why would McCandless even bother including Shanghai and Taipei? It seems to me that choices of cities were based on their TripAdvisor ranking rather than their vulnerability.

It is interesting to note that London manages to appear twice in the info graphic: once because of South London, which is likely to be submerged within 300-400 years, and the second time once it gets completely submerged, that is in a millennium. This distinction has certainly been made in order to show that London is at risk in the medium-term; but yet again it appears arbitrary to me.

Since looking at the effects of sea rising over a time-lapse of 8,000 years masks the immediacy of the problem, maybe another way to do it would be to reduce the time-lapse considered –say, 400 years, while including more non-Western cities. One could argue that the three small maps on the right (showing how continents’ surface dwindle) would lose their purpose if we are looking at such a short period of time. That is certainly true, yet whether those maps are actually necessary and contribute efficiently to the general message is an open question.

That said, this info graphic remains a beautiful tool to raise awareness about the effects of global warming. It is one of the few info graphics I’ve seen that succeed in communicating the importance of global warming efficiently without giving up on clarity and aesthetics. I have good hope that the growing and thriving online community of graphic designers will follow that trend; numerous incredible creations are appearing everyday on the web, some of which I’ve listed below for the pleasure of the eyes.

Stanford Kay’s  Work on Carbon Footprint.

Shrink That Footprint on the causes of GHG emissions.

Cameron Tulk on Fossil Fuels.

Act on CO2 campaign – Carbon Footprint

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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.

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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

Tck tck tck campaign

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The Tck Tck Tck campaign clip presents a cover of “Beds are burning” from Midnight Oil, an Australian band who wrote this song to raise awareness on climate change, realized by numerous celebrities.

The spectator is invited to listen to a well-known song from which some lyrics are highlighted in the clip and watch which celebrities engaged in the campaign. The campaign starts with a clock ticking (the “Tck tck tck” sound that gives its name to the campaign) which numbers are replaced with negative environmental symbols (a factory or an oxygen mask for instance) and a message from Kofi Annan who announces the need for citizens to signal climate change as a major issue during the 2009 Copenhagen summit and “make the planet a better place”. The song then begins with shots of celebrities singing on street posters crossed out by outlined lyrics such as “how can we dance”. The clip ends with a composition of celebrities’ pictures forming a world map, including a message from Desmond Tutu announcing that he supports this campaign, and a link embedded in the video to download the song for free and become a “climate ally”, as is demanded in the clip.

The presence of two political and moral guarantors of the campaign (both winners of the Nobel Peace Prize) at the opening and the closing of the video gives legitimacy to the message of the campaign. The participation of celebrities to the clip and song can awake curiosity for the viewers and give it more audience by generating a buzz. Finally, the cover of a well-known song ensures the campaign catches attention, vehicles a catchy message through the lyrics and sticks as a song to the viewer’s mind. This campaign is targeted to anyone who paid attention to the Copenhagen summit and believes climate change is a major issue to invite them to take a stand for political leaders, from adults who already know the song to a younger audience that might be more appealed by the celebrity component.

Beds are burning 2This campaign counts more than one million views on Youtube, which is a good channel of broadcasting: first, the clip is interactive and the viewer can click on the link embedded in the video and directly engage in the campaign. Then, it can be easily shared and diffused through social media that way, even more with the celebrities’ endorsement. Although the clip features a street-like design, it is clearly aimed at being interactive to catch people’s attention, so it is only partially integrated. It is also conceived to go from online media to TV or radio diffusion as it lasts a bit long for a TV spot (4:03min).

The campaign uses a song to convey different emotions. First, it can provoke enthusiasm because of the melody and the pleasure of singing. It also translates indignation through the lyrics which contain sentences such as “how can we…” to denounce inaction on climate change. But most importantly, it creates a sense of leadership personified by Kofi Annan and the celebrities because the message framing the music video is to invite spectators to feel concerned and take action. Indeed, the interesting feature of this campaign is that it gives to the viewer a mean of action, to be a “climate ally” and join those standing up to fight climate change and political inaction. It features both an explicit message and a link to take action before the video clip even ends.

Using an entertaining frame to convey a serious message is a creative and effective way to give it attention, especially when it has to stand out from the numerous information people are exposed to each day. It is even more distinctive with its popular culture references through a climate-change well-known song and various celebrities and peace leaders, as well as its given mean of action. This differs from many climate change campaigns playing on guilt and fear. However, this campaign was conducted during a summit that ended up being a mediatised failure, diminishing the impact these “climate allies” could have had. Furthermore, the use of celebrities embracing a cause is a double-edged marketing tool as it can also backfire: the use of celebrities can disservice a cause by making it loose its credibility (ex: “who are they to tell us what to do”) or diminish their sympathy for and sense of belonging with the cause (ex: “it’s for rich people only”). These two negative consequences are important to take into account as they illustrate two of the major flaws of climate change campaigns aimed at a large audience: giving a lesson and using a top-down approach.

The Black Balloons awareness campaign

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Screenshot of the “Greenhouse gas” TV ad –Victorian Government, Melbourne

In 2006 the Government of Victoria, Australia launched a new campaign “You have the power. Save Energy” aiming at encouraging energy savings and raising awareness about climate change. The campaign was an initiative of Sustainability Victoria. It consisted mainly in a series of videos: the “Black Balloons” awareness campaign, created by George Patterson Y&R communication agency, but also included a newspaper campaign. Six commercials were made, 30 to 45 seconds long, each making visible greenhouse gas emissions from houses by featuring black balloons.

Through different videos, the campaign targets different audiences using various discourses to raise awareness on the issue of climate change. The video above is about greenhouse gas emission in general and the final scene shows balloons flying up in the sky – relating to the idea of global impact. Another one focuses on children and future generations featuring a mother and her infant in a kitchen, others also focus on lighting (link) or air conditioning (link) providing tips and example of simple actions to save energy and act on climate change by changing behaviors.

Overall, the balloon metaphor helps the viewers to associate energy consumption and the amount of carbon released into the air, by making visible the invisible.

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Screenshots from the “Black Balloons – Full house” TV ad

Each video ends with the same message “You have the power to make a difference to climate change” addressing directly the individuals. It is not only an awareness campaign, but it also aims at encouraging people to act. In order to convince them, the campaign employs numerous tools and discourses. It uses rational incentives, by focusing on individual benefices linked to saving energy, such as saving money while acting for the planet. Another main discourse is linked to emotional triggers. First, everyone can relate to the campaign, as energy consumption is an everyday matter, and everyone uses at least one type of the featuring appliances every day. Second, the ambiance created by the selected music and slow-moving, menacing balloons create a feeling of fear.

Some pictures real hold the attention, seeing a room or a house full (link) of black balloons has something of terrifying about it. Some concerns rise about our safety and the perceived comfort we have as we are surrounded by all these electrical appliances. Greenhouse gases are rendered tangible and appear as a danger being all around us. The viewer perceives the danger, but the people featuring in the videos do not notice the balloons emerging around them and flying around the house, which makes the TVC even more vibrant. Another emotional trigger is the omnipresence of children and family on the campaign. We see families gathered around a meal not worrying although the ceiling above them is covered with black balloons. In the video with the infant in the kitchen, the child sees the balloons but the mother is not aware of their presence.

One video is the exception and does not feature any human physical presence. However, it is quite visually effective. There is no human physical presence, but there are traces of it, the fan and drying machine are switched on, the lights as well, shoes lay on the floor… One might wonder what happened to the residents or what will happen in the future if we don’t take action.

The campaign is successful as it incites people to think about their energy consumption or the future. The campaign provides information, and uses a complete set of tools in order to raise awareness and call for action. However, the message might be blurred or not as efficient as it could be. The campaign aims at convincing people to save energy, this is the first message, and thus – in a second phase – reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The message’s priorities can be discussed. And at the end those black and menacing balloons are still present, even if they are less numerous. It makes us think and realize that balloons will always exist, as greenhouse gases emissions cannot be eliminated. One might thus relativize and not act.

Nonetheless, the campaign ran for five years and remains a powerful one. The official website is no longer functional, but Sustainability Victoria and other organizations still use the black balloon as a visual unit of measurement when presenting for instance “10 smart ways to live sustainably”.

Moreover, the New South Wales government in Australia also tried to adapt and re-launch a similar campaign adapted from the Victorian one. This new campaign presents some interesting aspects as the NSW government tried to extend the effectiveness of the campaign, changing for instance ‘greenhouse gas’ to ‘carbon pollution’, or talking about ‘environment’ instead of ‘climate change’, and ‘power’ and not ‘energy’, in order to broaden the message to other environmental impacts, and apply the campaign to other range of energy uses. This campaign used many other media channels, such as TV, radio, printed and outdoor advertisements, an online platform etc.

On the whole, the black balloon remains a strong and vibrant way to make greenhouse gas emission and carbon pollution tangible and visible.

Black balloons 4

Printed advertisement of NSW Government “Save power” campaign

Black balloons 5

Printed advertisement of NSW Government “Save power” campaign

Moms Against Climate Change

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Moms against Climate Change is a provocative campaign using emotion to appeal for action on climate change and global warming. It was launched in 2009 in Canada by two Canadian Environmental Group, Environmental Defense and Forest Ethics. The campaign is held in an unnamed city and presents a demonstration whose protesters are solely children. Children defy riot police who are blocking the street and use shields and dogs to contain the protesters. The protest march is violent, children have to escape the police after breaking though them, some fall on the floor, try to climb a chain fence.

The campaign ends with the following message:  “if our children knew the facts we do, they’d take action. Shouldn’t you?”. Consequently, it conveys the idea that if we fail to head off global warming and climate change, we are all responsible for violence against children, as these latter will grow up with growing environmental issues that will threaten their lives.

The Moms against Climate Change “Demonstration” campaign uses unusual picture combination of children protesting in the streets, as a visual appeal to get audience. It particularly targets parents who don’t want their children to be threatened by such environmental issues, but we can consider that every individual has a young relative he wants to take care of, and who consequently feels concerned by this campaign.

In order to convince people, this campaign plays on fear and guilt to trigger emotions and to raise awareness. Displaying children engaged in violent actions, falling on the floor, and questioning people on their capacity to take action whereas they are aware of the facts, are ways to engage people, to make them concerned directly, personally by climate change issues. In order to support the tragic character of the campaign, a sad song is played, with sentences such as “the color of your fear”, “make them all disappear”, which give the feeling of a disaster that is going on and increasing. Finally, children all have sad faces; this a moving picture since childhood should be the age of insouciance and happiness.


The objective of this campaign was to convince Stephen Harper, the Canadian Prime Minister, that he had a role to play in Copenhagen and should engage Canada in a more proactive way to fight against climate change. The campaign was exposed on the internet and was accompanied by the creation of a website, on which Mums were invited to post pictures of their children beneath a message to Stephen Harper : “Stephen Harper: Remember who you’re representing in Copenhagen”.  Consequently, if the message was directed to Stephen Harper, it needed first support by mums, families to help with the collection of pictures for the website. Consequently, the campaign was first directed towards any citizen, even non Canadian.

However, the Moms against Climate Change campaign was not a massive success. Only 1,211 parents  uploaded their child’s picture, and the Copenhagen summit didn’t end with concrete decisions to reduce the pace of climate change. This failure is obviously not the fault of the Canadian state itself, but this campaign could have been more convincing. Indeed, even if it includes children, the situation in which they engage is unrealistic (in Canada and Northern countries especially, no child goes to fight), consequently people don’t make systematically the link between their proper children and the worsening situation, and the call for action is not as efficient as it should be or was expected to be.

On the contrary, displaying children forced to leave their country and become climate refugees because of the consequences of climate change, would be more appealing. Some people are even not receptive to campaign with children since this visual is hugely used in any campaign aiming at a call for action. They can feel harassed by this method which turns to be counter-productive in that case. Moreover, speaking about climate change is a broad and general term, and render the issue far from people’s concerns. It is tough to assess the impact of climate change through this particular campaign as it doesn’t display catching images to show the consequences of climate change, such as rising sea level, dying polar bears. Thus those who are not familiar with this term can pass by the call for action. Even if the campaign displays moving pictures such as sad faces, sad song, catching pictures, these are too unrealistic to function well and achieve its targets. Finally, the call for action is neither accompanied by a guideline to follow nor proposes solutions to target climate change. As a consequence, people can just feel guilty not to take action, but are not given incentives to act against such an issue.


HSBC “in the future” campaign

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Part of HSBC’s ongoing worldwide campaign entitled “in the future” — advertising by JTW London

In 2011, HSBC created a worldwide campaign entitled “In the Future”. It is composed of diverse picture-and-text posters, laid out to remind us of a magazine cover and, according to the advertisement agency JWT of London, to start “a meaningful conversation with the audience”. 

The advertisements are massively present in some designated areas of urban centers; I personally encountered them in the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris. A series of large posters were displayed in the runway. Their size (at least 1×1,5m) made them impossible to miss. Because they are in such a narrow corridor with no other visual distraction, even when not looking at them our brain certainly registers the message (see picture below).

The choice of an airport is not arbitrary: first of all, the population targeted by the advertisement is one that can afford to fly. It is fair to say that those who flight most often earn the higher incomes, or have a job that requires them to take trips frequently –businessmen. I believe that these people are the natural aim for most investment banks. Secondly, airports tend to make people nervous: fear of flying, worried about missing their flight, anxious about luggage issues, etc. Because of this state of mind, it is easy to drive people into behaviors that would not occur in a different context; in the end, more influenceable. Finally, aside from business activities, airports may also be the beginning or the finishing point of a vacation. Holidays, because they are associated with leisure, relaxation, “letting go”, also create a different psychological atmosphere favorable to the transmission of advertising messages.

Moving on to the content of the campaign, one has to dissect it for what it means, and then put it in relation with the company that it is supposed to represent. In the picture chosen for analysis, the line says: “In the future, salt water will quench our thirst”. The emotions conveyed are a drive to go forward, and an optimism towards the way we can use the Earth’s resources to fulfill our needs. While many environmental campaigns make us aware of the necessity to preserve, conserve, limit our consumption, the message here is that we can succeed at any cost.

The image itself reveals this outlook: a big wave of water is being contained –mastered by us humans– into… a plastic bottle? In my opinion, there is a massive difference between the future envisioned by HSBC and the one being depicted by proponents of sustainability. In 1986, an environmentalist from New York coined the term “green washing” to denounce the deceptive use of environmental-friendly image that some companies tried to give to themselves. Their desire to change our perception would translate into large budgets, while much smaller amounts were directed towards creating environmentally-sound products and practices. This seems like a valid way to understand this campaign.

More images from the campaign:HSBC