Transforming the Climate Conversation Through Social Video

May 22, 2015

Originally published on Greenbiz, June 5, 2014

Over the last two decades, non-profit organizations have tried to influence U.S. consumer belief in anthropogenic, or human-driven, climate change. During that time, many high profile campaigns have been launched, from the Evangelical Environmental Network’s What Would Jesus Do? campaign in 2000 to Al Gore’s Alliance for Climate Protection’s bipartisan We Can Solve It campaign in 2008 to 350.org’s Do the Math campaign in 2012.

While each campaign recorded its own successes, consumer data suggests that their collective impact on consumer beliefs has been nominal. Today, only a slim majority of Americans (57 percent) believe that climate change is caused by human activity, a percentage largely unchanged since Gallup’s Environment poll started in 2001.

Of course, there are many reasons why such campaigns might not have had broader impact. The campaigns may not have reached enough skeptics of anthropogenic climate change, or if they did, may have delivered messages that did not resonate or were discounted relative to counterarguments made by media organizations such as Fox News.

Former hedge fund executive Tom Steyer is already planning the next climate campaign through his super PAC NextGen Climate Action. NextGen intends to influence voting behavior in the midterm election, with the goal of electing public officials more likely to pass climate change legislation.

Taking a page from Obama’s 2012 reelection playbook, NextGen plans to connect one-on-one with voters — including skeptics of anthropogenic climate change — through tailored messages believed to have the best chance at swaying votes. While this latest effort is laudable, NextGen faces challenges similar to previous climate campaigns, namely, motivating skeptics to listen to its message and trust in the messenger that delivers it.

Advertisers face similar challenges in influencing consumers today through traditional advertisements. A recent Nielsen study indicates that, for Americans, “recommendations from people that [they] know” is, by far, the most trusted form of advertising (84 percent, up 6 percentage points from 2007.)

What this suggests is that the best way to influence consumer beliefs on climate change is to have trusted family and friends deliver the message, not advertisers. But to do so, an advertiser still faces high hurdles in motivating some people to watch messages delivered directly from the advertiser and then share them, whether by email, text, social network or word of mouth, across social circles. Such shared messages are impactful, not just because they come from a trusted source, but also because they come with an endorsement — implicitly or explicitly — from that person.

So, how do advertisers motivate consumers to share ads?

Leading global advertisers such as P&G, Samsung, Chrysler and Ford have delivered repeated success by engaging hundreds of millions of consumers through choice — or user-initiated — video. This is how it works: video ads are placed amongst native content on publisher sites across the web. When consumers find them relevant to their experience, they click and view them. To an advertiser, choice video is still an ad. But, to a consumer, it is content — and content that consumers choose to watch, and share if compelled to do so.

Non-profits and green brands such as Seventh Generation and Method also have leveraged choice video to engage consumers. Advertisers leverage choice video not just because it generates media efficiencies as shared (or earned) views are free, but because it also drives real impact, as demonstrated in multiple brand studies conducted jointly by Visible Measures and Insights Express, a leading research company.

Let’s take a closer look at some successful non-profit campaigns. One example is the Kony 2012 campaign launched by the non-profit organization Invisible Children. This campaign featured a 30-minute, documentary-style video that engaged viewers with a gripping story of a boy forced into being a child soldier fighting for Joseph Kony, a brutal rebel leader in Africa. In all, more than 229 million viewers have watched this video, making it one of the most viewed video campaigns of all time.
The campaign’s success not only was measured by its viewership, but also by how many viewers felt compelled to share it.
So the question becomes how does an advertiser motivate viewers to share a video, even one with a storyline as dark as this? The answer is straightforward: viewers share when they feel rewarded for doing so.

In the case of Kony 2012, the campaign was positioned to viewers as a way to build awareness for Joseph Kony’s atrocities in the hope that by making him famous, governments would come under pressure to take action to stop him. Viewers readily shared and engaged with the video across their social networks and, in return, gained a sense of personal satisfaction in knowing that their actions were helping to bring Kony to justice.

Most social videos, fortunately, tell a more positive story than Kony 2012’s. One recent example is a video campaign launched by Thai mobile operator TrueMove H, Giving Is the Best Communications. This gripping three-minute video tells the story of a storekeeper’s generosity toward a small boy that is repaid 30 years later. It has garnered over 16 million views to date from around the world — many of them generated through social sharing.

Viewers watch this video because it tells a universally appealing story that transcends cultural and language barriers to emotionally connect with viewers. Arguably, viewers have been sharing it because they get satisfaction from inspiring others — or perhaps even bragging rights of sort from being the first in their social group to share it. Regardless, the sharing of this video comes with an implicit or explicit endorsement from a trusted source to watch it.

Now, a similar opportunity exists to leverage choice video to influence consumer beliefs about climate change. Success of such a video campaign hinges on at least three things.

First, a campaign must craft a compelling story that all viewers — climate change believers and skeptics alike — want to watch. There are many ways to do this creatively, of course, but those that tell a universal story may have the broadest appeal.

Second, a campaign must distribute content to influencers and audiences across the web in order to spark social sharing. While earned media is free, most campaigns spend significant dollars building social momentum.

And third, viewers must feel rewarded for sharing. People enjoy compelling stories. But it does not mean that they automatically share them. People need an incentive for sharing in larger numbers and more often. Certainly, it can be based on a sense of personal satisfaction from taking social action as in the Kony campaign, or from inspiring others as in “Giving.” There is no reason why a climate campaign could not be awe-inspiring or feature a celebrity in a way that would enhance the reputation of those doing the sharing as trendsetters.

Choice video is a powerful medium by which to influence consumer beliefs on climate change. It not only has the potential to engage climate skeptics, but also to influence their beliefs, especially when the message is shared from a trusted source. This is one medium that climate campaigns — including Steyer’s super PAC — should give a chance.

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Pinterest Emerging as Promising Platform for Green Marketers

October 16, 2012

Over the past 12 months, Pinterest has witnessed explosive growth. The site has topped 23 million unique visitors and average site visit time is nearly 100 minutes per month, making it one of the largest and most engaging social networks around. AdAge raves that “…Pinterest has gone from relative obscurity to exalted status alongside Facebook and Twitter…”

What is so compelling about Pinterest is its simplicity, empowering users to capture, curate and share content of interest at the click of a button. Moreover, its format allows users to easily browse and discover new content pinned by other users.

Brands, including green brands, are increasingly discovering the potential of Pinterest and finding ways to adapt this consumer-centric platform for their benefit.

Promote discovery. Consumers like to browse Pinterest and, while doing so, are discovering brands. Brands are maximizing their chance of being discovered by finding ways to distribute their content on Pinterest.

One way to accomplish this is for brands to directly curate their own Pinterest content. Additionally, brands can make truly compelling content available online. This could include visually powerful images on relevant and timely themes that the growing number of Pinterest users may find and pin onto their personal boards. Consumers can discover content on their own or be encouraged through contests like the one that Method deployed to incentivize Moms to pin images of Method products.

Strengthen brand identity. Companies are also finding ways to leverage Pinterest to help define their brands. They do so by using the Pinterest platform to distribute content that brings to life their brands — or core values.

Whole Foods, for example, says they are committed to “selling the highest quality natural and organic products available”. For Whole Foods, such a commitment originates in the garden where the food is grown and pays off through the appeal of the dish that is ultimately served and the healthier lifestyle to which the food contributes. Pinterest boards sponsored by Whole Foods bring each of these dimensions to life.

Highlight social responsibility. Pinterest can also enable brands to highlight its commitment to corporate social responsibility (CSR) in a very visible and compelling way. In addition to its other Pinterest initiatives, Whole Foods maintains a Pinterest board dedicated to the Whole Planet Foundation and its many initiatives sponsored around the world. Images map where contributions are made and illustrate the good works that are done in a format that seems, in many ways, less constrained or forced than the Corporate Social Responsibility tab on their corporate site.

Drive sales. Eco-friendly brands are also beginning to experiment with social networks to drive sales, and Pinterest is emerging as a key option. When looking at click-through rates to retail sites from the top three social networks — Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter — Facebook continues to drive the vast majority of traffic but Pinterest exceeds Twitter in terms of traffic generation. In fact, Pinterest is now responsible for more than 11 percent of user shopping sessions originating from the top social networks — Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. Moreover, sales conversion rates for users originating from Pinterest are trending higher than from Twitter. At $169, the average order size of Pinterest users is substantially greater than for users that originate from either Facebook ($95) or Twitter ($71).

Brands like eBay are taking note, promoting eco-friendly products across a myriad of Pinterest boards, including health and beauty, fashion and electronics, and providing each product image with a direct link to a transaction page within the eBay Green site.

For green marketers, Pinterest provides a promising platform to engage consumers and for consumers to discover brands that they might not ordinarily interact with. Pinterest’s unique format provides the opportunity for companies to show their brands to consumers in a visually powerful way. Such interactions can provide dimension to a brand and can potentially drive sales. Green brands will be missing a key emerging opportunity online if they fail to consider their own Pinterest strategy.


Climate Change Turns Personal: Why Brands Must Adapt

August 2, 2012

Until recently, climate change remained an abstract concept to most Americans — something that may have long-term consequences for the planet, but moving too slowly be a significant concern in their daily lives.

Today, however, such sentiments may be beginning to change. As more and more Americans experience such events firsthand, they’re beginning to make the connection between climate change and its growing impact. Natural disasters and extreme weather events such as high winds and rain storms, floods, droughts and heat waves are happening more frequently — and with greater intensity.

There’s some evidence supporting Americans’ change in attitude: A recent survey conducted by Yale and George Mason universities indicates that the vast majority of Americans agrees that climate change is making natural disasters and extreme weather events worse.  More than a third of respondents reported that they personally experienced “harm” to their property, finances or physical or mental health from a natural disaster or extreme weather event in the past year alone.

Brands should take note: Climate change is becoming more relevant for Americans as its effects become more personal.  Crossing such a threshold is significant as it means that consumers will likely become more attuned to corporate activities that impact climate change – either positively or negatively. This, in turn, could significantly impact brand favorability, preference and purchase over time. Consumers may seek to reward brands that help reduce the impact of climate change, while penalizing those that do not.

Climate change is not going away. Many factors have emerged that will only serve to reinforce why climate change is personally relevant for Americans. Here’s how this is happening:

More Americans will experience climate change impact. Whether it be wildfires in the West, floods in the Midwest or Texas droughts, more Americans will be impacted firsthand as the probability of natural disasters and extreme weather events is only expected to increase with time  — and reinforce just how personal climate change’s effects really are.

Our quality of life is increasingly impacted. Natural disasters and extreme weather events are having a growing impact on the personal life of Americans.  While ‘harm’ is an extremely important measure of climate change impact, it does not capture the impact that extreme weather events have on the everyday lives of most Americans.

For example, a violent, fast-moving storm may prevent a mother from dropping off a child at practice. Snow storms in October mean that it is too dangerous for young children to play outside, with tree branches – still full of leaves – breaking off under the weight of the snow.  And heat soaring above 100 degrees can be hazardous to those with no means of cooling off.

Americans are sharing their stories. Users are taking advantage of social media platforms to document and share content regarding climate change and its impact on natural disasters and extreme weather events.  Pinterest, in particular, has emerged as a compelling visual platform to share images, infographics and stories about climate change and weather-related events.


Moreover, nonprofits are also facilitating users to share their stories.  Recently, for example, 350.org launched its global “Connect the Dots” campaign to motivate users to document and share images and stories about local climate change impact across the globe.


Americans are seeking out experts.  The Yale/George Mason survey indicated that 58 percent of Americans want to hear more from their TV weather forecaster about climate change.

Yet today, such trusted experts are largely silent on the issue. Sixty-nine percent of Americans indicate that their weather forecaster never or rarely ever (1-2 times over the past 12 months) mentions climate change.  This is consistent with an estimated 72-90 percent drop in climate change coverage across evening and Sunday news programs between 2009 and 2011.

In the absence of regular reporting, Americans are going elsewhere for information. For example, a recent CNN interview with Bill Nye the Science Guy making the connection between wildfires and climate change has nearly a half million views on YouTube.

As the effects of climate change hit home, consumers will become more attuned to corporate efforts addressing the matter. Over time, they’ll indicate brand preference as well. Companies should take this into account when considering future commitments to more sustainable actions.


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