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.

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Printed advertisement of NSW Government “Save power” campaign

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Printed advertisement of NSW Government “Save power” campaign

Food waste from wedding banquets

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In wedding banquets, 1/4 of food ordered is being wasted

The Chinese character “囍” literally means ‘double happiness’. It is commonly written in red for wedding decorations.

If you have Chinese friends, you must have been invited at least once to a big feast – yes, they love to make friends at the dining table. However, you might be surprised by the amount of food they ordered for you. It’s enormous. Perhaps, it is so deeply-rooted in the Chinese culture that, the only way to treat their guests well, is to order more than they need. No wonder in Chinese wedding banquets, it is estimated that almost 1/4 of food is being wasted.

Campaign summary

A green initiative in Hong Kong -The Leftovers- started to collect leftover food from wedding banquets and redistribute them to people in need. To turn the leftover habit in traditional Chinese culture –having leftovers in banquets show that you have treated your guests well- upside down, the organization took the initiative to invite banquet hosts to contact them and collect the leftover food. Fruits that are not consumed will be made into jams while cooked food will be distributed directly to the homeless.

Objective

The campaign has 2 aims:

  1. To collect leftover food and redistribute to those in need.
  2. To raise the awareness of the public about over-consumption has caused a serious food waste problem.

The Characters

The campaign was initiated by a group of university students. 6-7 students formed the core members of the group. They promoted their campaign on Facebook and called for volunteers in ad-hoc events. Up to this moment, they have 100 voluntary members.

Outcomes

The campaign has been a great success. Many couples found The Leftovers team on the Internet and contacted them. On average, the Team collects food from banquets 3-4 times a week. During those ‘good days’ for marriage (according to the Chinese calendar), the team received 6 calls for food collection during the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival in September, which is a day for family reunion.

The End of Story?

The Leftovers team realized that collect leftover food is not a sustainable solution. They extended their actions to school education. They collaborated with schools to give talks and workshops to students in order to advocate the concept of a good consumption habit to the young ones.

Commentary

The campaign was triggered based on the local context. It is particularly tackling the consumption habit of the Chinese. It is true that there are a lot of unsustainable habits in the Chinese culture, for instance the consumption of shark fins and meat (which was only affordable for rich people in the past). The campaign is a good initiative to question the Chinese tradition and initiate a fundamental change in our eating habit. How about you? How much food do you waste every day? Do you order more than you need when you eat out? Or do you simply left the side dishes untouched? Perhaps, we should all reflect on our eating habit, and minimize food waste from each meal.

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.

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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.

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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