An Interview with Matt Williams, EVP/Partner at The Martin Agency and Planning Director for the “We Can Solve It” Campaign
While many consider the release of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth to be a turning point regarding consumer awareness about climate change, consumer surveys indicate that much work is still left to be done.
In fact, six months after the movie’s release, an ACNielsen online consumer survey found that North Americans were the least aware of and concerned about global warming of all respondents from the 46 markets surveyed.
Moreover, North Americans were only half as likely as South Americans (Argentina, Brazil and Chile) – those surveyed that were most aware and concerned – to believe that climate change was “a direct result of human actions”.
This month, however, there is reason to hope. Al Gore’s Alliance for Climate Protection is back with an ambitious 3-year, $300MM campaign to raise awareness of – and to influence behavior regarding – global warming.
Recently, Marketing Green spent some time with Matt Williams, EVP/Partner at The Martin Agency. Today, The Martin Agency serves as the lead agency for the Alliance and is in charge of the campaign’s brand strategy, among other roles.
Willams serves as the Planning Director on this campaign. As such, his role is to uncover insights that will motivate consumer changes in attitudes and behaviors. In many ways this is a daunting challenge for a marketer, given the enormity of the task at hand as well as its importance to the overall effort to solve global warming. Here are his words:
MG: In launching this campaign, what was the Alliance’s primary objective.
MW: The Alliance’s WE campaign is designed to bring public opinion past the tipping point, and compel our elected leaders to take action on climate change. We only have a short window to act, and what we need is a massive, sustained effort to mobilize millions of people – that’s what this effort is all about.
MG: Describe some of challenges that you faced in tackling an issue as daunting as climate change.
MW: Climate change is a huge challenge, and the vast majority of people realize the urgency and enormity of the threat. But, human nature being what it is, a challenge this large can be almost paralyzing.
We had to break through the assumption that the climate crisis is too big for a regular person to tackle. We had to tell people that, yes, this is an urgent challenge, but like other massive challenges, if we put our differences aside and band together to solve it, we can do it. Adding elements of optimism and solvability to the urgency of solving the climate crisis was the key challenge of the campaign.
MG: Is it realistic to expect a marketing campaign to have a significant impact on attitudes and behaviors regarding climate change?
MW: The advertising is just one piece of the Alliance’s 3-year effort – and it’s a multimillion dollar, national ad campaign, stretching from coast to coast in every type of media.
The Alliance has also launched a program of online engagement and activation, providing opportunities for citizens get and stay involved; and is partnering with organizations that will work across the political spectrum to reach people in their day-to-day lives.
As these efforts work together and build momentum over the life of the campaign, we expect to mobilize millions of people for solutions to climate change.
MG: What is your campaign idea? What were some of the consumer insights from which it was derived?
MW: We know consumers are frustrated with partisan bickering. We know the vast majority of Americans accept the reality of the climate crisis and want to engage in solving it, but they don’t know how to get involved.
And we know that consumers view the climate crisis as too large and urgent a challenge to be held hostage by political gridlock. The campaign idea is that we have to set aside our differences and come together to solve the climate crisis. If we don’t come together, the problem won’t be solved—it’s too big.
But if we come together, we can speak with a unified voice to demand solutions. The campaign and the WE idea are designed to create a motivating sense of energy and optimism and to invite everyone to participate in solving climate change.
MG: What are the key elements of the campaign? Overall, how are inpidual tactics integrated across channels? Conversely, inpidually, how were each tactic tailored for each channel?
MW: In terms of the ads themselves, we’re combining television – because of its reach to the broad audience we’re trying to speak to – with print, in issue-specific publications aimed at key groups, and online ads that can be carefully targeted as well.
Every ad, in mass media or online, drives traffic to http://www.wecansolveit.org, the Alliance website. At the site, consumers can find a wide variety of information about the climate crisis and ways to get involved—from petitions to government leaders to local events. They’ll also have the chance to join the Alliance by giving us their e-mail address. So this is more than ad campaign—it’s an integrated effort to engage consumers, and turn that engagement into real action.
MG: How will you drive viral marketing? What is the role for social media? How do you build grassroots support for action?
MW: The online and grassroots components of the campaign will provide opportunities for inpiduals to get and stay involved in ways that make sense for them. Our cutting-edge online organizing and activation, built around the website, will give people a spectrum of activities to keep them engaged on the issue, from taking action in their personal lives to working in their schools and communities to joining calls for government action on all levels.
We’re also using the “network effect” – getting the word out through ready-to-use content (like embeddable videos) and social media that enable communities and inpiduals to engage on the issue, spread the word and become local champions.
The Alliance has created partnerships with local and national groups to get the word out on the grassroots level, so consumers not only see the WE brand in media outlets and online, they feel it through other groups and activities that are important in their lives.
We’re also looking at ways for consumers to use elements of our campaign to create their own WE content, to help build viral momentum and actively involve consumers in creating the WE brand with us.
MG: How involved has Al Gore been in the planning of this campaign?
MW: Vice President Gore has been an integral part of the WE Campaign’s development from start to finish. The Alliance and the We campaign are built on the idea that the climate crisis is urgent and solvable, and VP Gore’s goal is to ensure that we get the word out as effectively as possible.
MG: How did you incorporate innovative approaches in this campaign? What are they and how did they impact the consumer experience in a novel way?
MW: The entire campaign is rooted in a brand idea that will unify every effort, in mass media, online and grassroots. The idea of bringing Unlikely Alliances like Newt Gingrich/Nancy Pelosi and Pat Robertson/Al Sharpton together is an attention-getting way to make our point about coming together to solve the crisis.
That theme will continue in the future and in other parts of the campaign, and has great potential for interesting and involving messages in every medium.
We’ll also use the couch from the TV, print and online ads as an icon for coming together.
The creation of the WE mark gives us a symbol that people everywhere can use to display their commitment to solutions. WE can become part of people’s lives beyond the campaign.
Also, our focus on Influencers as a media target is designed to communicate our message to people who start conversations. When millions of Influencers engage their network members and policymakers in a discussion about solutions to the climate crisis, the conversation will take on even greater momentum.
It’s an amazing privilege for us to be involved with the Alliance in helping address this incredibly important challenge.