When Your Ad Campaign Goes Big, Make Sure You Ask For Something Big In Return

Conservation International’s latest celebrity studded campaign made a big splash, but did the size of the splash equal the size of the potential impact?

Nature is speaking, but will anyone listen?


This week Conservation International launched their arresting new public awareness campaign, Nature Is Speaking through a series of short films narrated by celebrities including Julia Roberts and Kevin Spacey. The films personify nature with a bold message: “Nature doesn’t need people. People need Nature.” It invites people to join in changing the perception and conversation around the environment.

To be clear, these short, provocative films (which you can see above) are not your run-of-the-mill campaign videos. Julia Roberts (Mother Nature), Harrison Ford (The Ocean), Kevin Spacey (The Rainforest), Edward Norton (The Soil), Penélope Cruz (Water) and Robert Redford (The Redwood) should be commended for their stirring portrayals of nature’s elements. The films are visually stunning, with poignant, powerful, haunting phrases about how people need nature, not the other way around, like Ford’s Ocean saying, “I covered this entire planet once, I can always cover it again.”

The campaign videos grab your attention but they may also leave you with a bit of a bad taste in your mouth. They feel angry and dare I say, a bit mean-spirited. I get it, nature is making us understand how mean-spirited us humans have been to it. And nature’s right. But from an engagement and social impact perspective, will people really respond to that type of tone and message? Will they be motivated to act and advance the cause? The guy honking his horn at you for cutting in front of his car may be right to be angry, but does it change your behavior?

The actions the campaign wants you to take are fourfold:

  1. Spread #natureisspeaking across your social media platforms and Hewlett Packard will donate $1
  2. Spread the message that “Nature is Speaking” through other social media channels
  3. Take the pledge to say how you will listen to nature
  4. Make a donation to CI.

All the actions are easy enough, but this is what I find a bit troubling. Given the bold and anthemic tone of the campaign, it feels a bit underwhelming to hashtag natureisspeaking when Mother Earth (Julia Roberts) just told me that she has fed and killed species greater than me.

Given the desire to change perspectives and the conversation, why isn’t there a more substantive ask attached? Why is CI not reaching out to other groups and thought leaders to shape a new common language? Why aren’t they setting some bold outcomes they would like to see so that people understand how their donation, pledge, or share adds up to something as bold as the videos? The weight of what CI is trying to accomplish feels mismatched with the lighter actions the campaign asks of us.


Key take away: Going big and bold is generally a good thing, especially when you have the voice of so many smart, interesting influencers–but if you go this big with an idea, you better have a bolder purpose and end goal in place to compel people to act.


About the author

Phillip Haid is the Co-Founder and CEO of PUBLIC Inc., a Toronto based cause-marketing agency and incubator that believes profit & purpose should go hand-in-hand. PUBLIC is working with corporations and charities across North America to redefine “social good” and bring a new approach to cause marketing.