Ad With Dying, Computer-Animated Polar Bears Stirs Controversy

What does shock marketing do for a problem as big as global warming?

Polar Bear


How far is too far, in the effort to teach the public about global warming?

A U.K. group called Plane Stupid is drawing fire for a new ad they’re airing, which depictes polar bears chucked from planes and falling to their death. It’s meant to illustrate the point that every plane flight emits about 880 pounds of carbon-dioxide–about the weight of a polar bear. 

As Ed Gillespie, the co-director of sustainable marketing firm Futerra writes in The Guardian:

This is the new promotional film from anti-aviation expansion campaigners Plane Stupid. It’s the latest in a series of climate change “shock ads” ranging from Greenpeace’s now slightly dated Friday the 13th
in which a hijacked plane is flown into Sizewell nuclear power station
while a family playing on the beach stands agog, to the government’s
own recent Bedtime Stories short that ran as part of the wider, ongoing ACT on CO2 campaign.

He goes on to make a very interesting point: Shock ads tend to work in cases like safe-sex, when it’s a matter of making smarter personal decisions. You see a memorable ad, and you think twice before unprotected sex.

But global warming is a different problem–one of collective action, in addition to personal choice. And that’s why Gillespie advocates ads that emphasize positive choices–such as the Airplot campaign by Greenpeace and these Trains vs Planes viral ads.


Shock ads like this one, meanwhile, pose a danger in themselves: If the theme of combating climate change begins verging on propaganda, then you risk having the public see it as one of political disposition, rather than something overwhelmingly supported by science. But then again, how else do you reach a public increasingly inured to advertising and largely ignorant of science?

[The Guardian via Treehugger]


About the author

Cliff was director of product innovation at Fast Company, founding editor of Co.Design, and former design editor at both Fast Company and Wired.