• 01.09.17

Forget Denial, Canadian Government Campaign Makes Climate Change Ridiculously Personal

Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change takes light-hearted aim at impact on pizza, man caves, fishing stories, and more.

Forget Denial, Canadian Government Campaign Makes Climate Change Ridiculously Personal

When it comes to talking about climate change, often the conversation revolves around whether or not it exists (pssst, it does), or just how utterly and totally screwed the planet is. Not exactly uplifting, hopeful stuff.


But if we’re going to make any positive impact on slowing, halting and, somehow, reversing the effects of climate change, everyone’s going to have to get on board. And if advertising has taught us anything, it’s that using negative messages and guilt will only get you so far. Sooner or later, people are going to tune out all the doom and gloom. So while President-elect Trump and his incoming cabinet take up time debating its existence, north of the border, the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change decided to take light-hearted aim at the environmental impact on important aspects of our everyday lives like pizza, man caves, fishing stories, and more.

The brief given to Toronto-based agency Bensimon Byrne for the campaign was to personalize climate change to as many people in Ontario as possible. Actually, hyper-personalize the problem. Agency partner and executive creative director Joseph Bonnici said the primary question was, what are some of the things that people love most that might be at stake?

“For many years, people have seen the dire predictions of rising sea levels, melting snowcaps, superstorms, forest fires, drought, and famine,” says Bonnici. “The enormity of the problem and the enormity of what we need to do as individuals can be overwhelming. And not very personal. Hyper-personalizing it makes it much more real.”

For example, Bonnici says it’s not just agriculture and the food supply in Ontario that’s being threatened, it’s your love for pizza, full of ingredients grown in fields across our province. It’s not just that superstorms will lead to more regular large-scale flooding in urban centers, it’s also your basement man cave where you watch hockey at risk. And it’s not just the fish population that’s being threatened in the Great Lakes, it’s those true and less-than -completely-true fishing trip stories.

The decision to go with a lighter, funnier vibe was to consciously side-step our increasingly numb or fatigued response to depressing stats, or those charts that show how soon your neighborhood will be underwater.

“It’s a purposeful attempt to start to give people hope that their personal contributions can make a difference,” says Bonnici. “It is also a tone people haven’t seen before when trying to make sense of this problem. Ninety-nine percent of climate change work relies on scaring people to make a difference. We just don’t believe that’s the way to create true change and emotionally connect with people. When people see themselves in work and see a positive way to make an impact, it becomes much more real. You’ll also notice that we used a wide range of people in these. Everyone from kids to seniors because as the campaign says, ‘climate change changes everything.’ No one will be immune to losing something they love if they don’t act.”


The new campaign may also pull double duty as an image buffer for the provincial Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change, which in December was put under investigation for altering dates on freedom of information requests to improve its own compliance statistics.

About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity. He lives in Toronto.