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.
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.