Inconvenient Truth Meets Digital Earth: Marketing ‘Hope’

earthus.jpg The New York Times’ Stuart Elliot wrote that “A Procession of Penguins” was arriving on the advertising scene, and referenced Shaping Youth’s article where we admonished pharmaceutical giant Roche for tredding on thin ice by using animated kiddie flicks to mine pocketbooks of parents to promote their flu elixir.

Nothing against Happy Feet, just the penguin pill-pushing policy. Well, those cute lil’ beaksters just keep makin’ the news. Newest penguin story popping?

Penguin Young Readers Group & Rodale will be co-publishing a young adult adaptation of Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth, subtitled, “The Crisis Of Global Warming” with ‘kid-friendly’ changes, photos galore, and fun new chapter titles like, “Denial Ain’t Just a River in Egypt.”

Penguin mania aside, the ‘inconvenient truth’ for Gore is that Generation M (media/millennials) need a huge dollop of HOPE upfront and some new media ‘next steps’ if his tome’s going to fly with his intended “11 & up” crew.

I say harness the energy at Global Kids. Get Voices of Youth at Unicef onboard. Have Gore’s avatar do a book signing in Second Life.

Get kids excited with interactive sites and new media tools like Shuru that leverage the viral potential of the internet and mobile phones spreading social cause messages and empowering real world actions.

Bring in visionary ideas like Digital Earth sparked by R. Buckminster Fuller, ‘grokked’ by the Apollo astronauts returning from their moon missions and popularized by Gore himself.

Or hey, maybe even repurpose those ‘Gangsta penguins’ on the top viral video charts for Al’s “lit bit” with an eco-hip-hop shtick for young adults?? Hmn. Could be fun.

I’d sure as heck like to see tweens pause a ‘Josh & Drake’ episode long enough to dial into some meaningful content for a change…

I have high hopes here.

Will Gore use Current TV and tons of teen sites to direct kids toward cool interactive games, NASA downloads, tech museums and er, uh, ‘Tiki the Penguin’s Climate Change for Kids?’ Or will he go the teacher route?

Maybe he’ll re-release the movie in a “young adult version” where he ditches his charts, pointer sticks, and monotones and lets the Current TV crew take a stab at creating a message with a youth media vision.

Now there’s an idea!

We all KNOW this generation of youth is more environmentally concerned and aware than predecessors, but talk is cheap, even with Gore’s “faith that young people have both the ability and the enthusiasm to put a stop to global warming.”

If he paints with too broad of a brush, Gore’s stranded polar bears on ice floes and cartoon frogs in bubbling beakers will create analysis paralysis with youth slumping into a collective shrug of helpless inertia.

Kids need juiced early on with a shot of rocket fuel and positivity.

Upbeat, films with youth appeal like Earthwalk Media’s Mama Earth (Her Destiny, Our Hands) by award-winning Producer/Director and unsung hero Leslie Bloom VanEe inspires kids to plunge into the dialogue and make global inroads pronto!

I’m a firm believer that hope spurs action…

Teens may be teeming with user-generated content, but younger kids need guidance, and a big ol’ dose of hands-on ‘next steps.’ Just like an ad campaign, Gore needs to have a strong ‘call to action’ when his book is released in April 2007.

When I took our entire team of 11-year old ‘tween’ eco-advisors to Inconvenient Truth, the collective thought was:

“Why did he wait until the END of the movie to say we can still help?”

One child left the theater scared to death that the world was going to flood and found it insanely depressing.

Another was ready to ditch her popcorn after the polar bear scene and just get outside to save the animals.

One said she felt like she was in school.

And two of them carried that glazed look of sadness and depression that endangers youth momentum and stalls visionary hope.

The rest of the tweens ‘got it’ but clearly carried a ‘punch up the pace’ common thread in their critiques…

I’m not saying everything has to be penguin-flapping fun or eco-entertainment.

“Current TV” videos like Bangladesh on the Brink or Global Warming and Ethanol are insightful, but for tweens who want to make a contribution to a more sustainable world, a lighter touch is in order, with a brighter worldview for our “Digital Earth”…

I’m kind of a ‘fencing windmills’ gal myself, so I’ve always liked this quote:

“Sanity may be madness but the maddest of all is to see life as it is and not as it should be.” –Don Quixote

Gore’s new Y.A. lit has the potential to leverage that vision through new media if he ‘cross-markets’ in interesting ways to deliver the sustainability message with fun and flair instead of going the ‘gloom-n-doom’ despair route.

I figure if USA Today blogger Angela Gunn can feature Mia Farrow speaking on Darfur on Global Kids Island in Teen Second Life, and Mia Farrow can make inroads imparting the Darfur message on the main grid, it seems mainstream media is ready to make the leap toward embracing innovations in new media.

Even stalwart print magazines are getting in on the game. Literally…

Who would’ve EVER thought a glamorama fashionista pub like Marie Claire would be the first mainstream press to blurb a TEEN created, profoundly challenging, social impact survival game like “Ayiti: The Cost of Life!?”

They describe this Unicef project as “an addictive video game with a serious social message, where you’re “responsible for a Haitian family’s destiny as they struggle to make a living and get educated.”

Talk about a mass media mindshift…Marie Claire? Clearly the backlash toward vapid values is building with forward momentum.

To give you a feel of the game itself, check reviews & comments from youth-driven popular sites like Joystiq. I think it’s time Shaping Youth does a ’round up’ of the rise in social impact games overall, so parents get a feel for ‘what else is out there’ besides the media-blitzed ‘mature/violent’ junk.

As for the green scene, you’ll always have naysayers and curmudgeons that say environmental issues are ‘a political football they won’t touch.’ Or corporate energy interests that undermine positive thought by relegating 40,000 free copies of Gore’s movie to the school storage shed. (NSTA response here)

…But even THOSE obstacles are workable and skirtable if you use the right media to deliver a centrist message.

Our stance is to know BOTH sides of your audience, and work with, or around it as each case permits. (as one pundit said, ‘neither left, nor right, but forward’)

As a nonpartisan nonprofit, Shaping Youth has been able to avoid ‘tree-hugger-political implications’ of folks like Neil Cavuto who lambasted Happy Feet as global warming eco-propaganda, by purposely choosing media messaging that can pass goosey PTA boards who fear parents-wielding pens.

Grassroots example?

I serve on the Advisory Board for Earthseeds who has a ‘2020 global vision of a planet in every classroom.’

They take a very simple, accurate, astronaut’s view of Earth and use NASA public domain photos to create earth educational posters that are a welcome addition to the usual states map and flag that dominates U.S. classroom décor.

It’s a subtle, scientific, simple picture of “home,” which brands the thought that ‘we’re all in this together’ without saying a word.

Earthseeds Founder Mark Joyous said,

“We purposely DON’T put ANY writing on the posters whatsoever.

It doesn’t say ‘one world’ or ‘peace’ or ‘think global’ or any language that would need translated.

It can’t be construed as ‘left or right rhetoric’ or hippydippy hype, it’s a simple visual reminder to kids that they all live here…It’s a snapshot of our home. And our home needs handled with care.”

Spearheaded by Shaping Youth’s Debbie Barrie and Lori Tamura-Chinn, we were able to pilot and institute a full scale recycling program jumping from a minimal if not invisible effort to a schoolwide (500 kids) full tilt campaign. (16 outdoor bins, 62 small cans in the classrooms and older kids helping younger kids to sort and select what items can go into this single-stream system!)

What school can argue with a simple sustainability message for kids?

Earthseeds donated bright blue turquoise tees with ‘Crewmember Spaceship Earth’ to our team of 4th & 5th graders who earned a slot on the peer to peer ‘planet patrol’ by explaining what it meant to be ‘part of the crew’ rather than just a ‘passenger’ on this ride of life.

They also host a Global Youth Voices project, and have a fun little talking wombat flash animation critter in partnership with Global Community…But we stuck with our core message of “sustainability,” to make inroads slowly.

In year two we promoted trashless lunches, a Baywood Elementary schoolwide waste & toxic tech recycling blitz, an Earth Day celebration and an eco-club with peer to peer mentoring.

We’ve had other grassroots districtwide contacts ask about ‘how-tos’ for starting their own environmental youth programs, and Shaping Youth is even considering adding this into our own ‘m-power’ media mix of life skills enrichment and counter-marketing games.

What would we be counter-marketing with this round of media messaging?

Conflicting (and constant) media messages of wretched excess and toxic behavioral cues to kids. Materialism. A throw away society. Over-packaging. Wealth at all costs. Mindless consumerism…

Even wasteful marketing of MEDIA itself like those gawdawful huge software boxes holding a lone CD, or those printer-sized hard-plastic laminates that cut up your fingers trying to extrude a teeny weeny flash drive that’s keychain size! Sigh.

I just picked up an Inconvenient Truth and was pleasantly surprised to see it was packaged in a simple cellophane sleeve…I hold high hopes for Gore’s young adult book version to mobilize youth in new exciting ways.

If it falls flat, well, maybe he can cut a media mega-deal with those danged cute penguins.

I hear they’re boosting sales quite well.



  1. Nice piece. Glad you found it useful to reference our work.

  2. Glad you’re getting more press on it, as ‘not always winning’ is a useful life lesson too.

    I realize from a media/mktg. standpoint, it doesn’t ‘sell’ as well that way, but clearly cholera, etc. is not exactly ‘wing-flapping fun’ like the penguin flick.

    I’ve edited/linked to ProGamer to include the important fact that it was “teen created” (I see now that wasn’t obvious, sorry) & am ready to try out the challenge myself when time gives a tad. I’d like to interview the teen developers for a piece on ‘social impact games’ down the line if they’re ‘game.’ 😉

    Yesterday’s Parc forum, “Got Game? Exploring the contexts of collaborative experience, social awareness, and gameplay” with Speaker Tina Blaine from Carnegie-Mellon University, Entertainment Technology Center sounded interesting & one of our S.Y. advisors attended, so I’m anxious to hear that outcome, too!

    p.s. Common Sense Media picked up our piece, so hopefully that’ll boost some awareness among the adult pop. that gaming isn’t all twitch-n-track. —Keep up the great work…Best, Amy

  3. Amy – I was particularly interested in your thoughts about An Inconvenient Truth and how its message came across to youth. As an engineer and mathematician, I have to trust to some degree your empirical evidence – what a good thing to take kids to the movie and poll them afterward! Perhaps a small sample size, but I trust you to pick a sample that represents the larger population – at least of suburban kids in the SF Bay Area, which is a significant number of kids. But, as an “over-35” and as an engineer, I must say that it’s mildly distressing that I have to infer from your evidence that kids today just don’t have the tolerance (or time, or [gasp] attention span?) to listen to a fully-reasoned presentation that has a conclusion at the end. From this I would have to infer that the number of “deep thinkers” who are capable of ingesting the whole contents of a field of study (such as “systems thinking” for example) and then making a positive contribution to the field in the future, is in fact decreasing over time because kids are evermore becoming twitch-speed gamers and consequently twitch-speed-attention-spanners. Do you think this bodes well for the future of any society?

    For example, in choosing elected officials for a country, will these kids ever have the depth of thought to be able to significantly analyze information and come to a well-reasoned conclusion about who the better candidate might be? Or will they just vote the “penguin party” – that is, vote for whomever produces the cutest advertising? (Perhaps on the theory that “they’re all the same anyway.” – which, of course, we all know is not true when we analyze past political scandals and scoundrels.)

  4. You’ve tapped into a huge issue that is indeed problematic! See Kaiser’s teen study on multi-tasking:

    Though our ‘tween’ sampling was fairly small (a dozen kids) they were part of our ECO team which makes it further disturbing as they’re favorably inclined here! Mind you, teens would fair much better on this, and these kids may have been a hair too young (11) to achieve the level of deep-thinking, systems analysis of fully-reasoned application here, but what you’re eluding to is EXACTLY what we’re studying with Shaping Youth’s bigger picture in terms of media’s impact on kids.

    There are risks/rewards on the multi-tasking front. But overall, I’d say my empirical data holds true with universal application far beyond this dozen or so kids! (I know several ADULTS who couldn’t sit still during the film saying it needed more ‘umpf!’ so this is a much bigger issue on the way entertainment is ingested)

    I’ll add that in my school system counter-marketing sessions of much wider youth samplings (100+ tweens each pop) that this is what I face every week. Teachers complain most about Gen. “M”s lack of focus, attention span, over-talking/interrupting.

    This last session of 60 kids on Friday has prompted me to get a ‘bell’ to ‘ding’ when it gets too unruly as they switch ‘stations’. Also, behaviorally, they’re EXTREMELY tied into ‘incentives’ (I use ‘tickets’ earned to simulate the marketing games)—this is part of what I’m studying in terms of ‘how kids retain knowledge’ in this new media environment!

    On the plus side, even though it seems ‘chaotic’ to me as an adult, I was AMAZED to find they retained the info better in this ‘game’ like format. The kids were able to cite FIVE relevant points about high fructose corn syrup from last week’s session, when I could’ve sworn they were pinging all over the place and not listening to me at all.

    This is where adaptation to new media environs becomes essential in being able to deliver an impactful, effective message to youth…I strongly feel there’s a place for integrating VARIOUS methodologies with positive outcomes (including intensely focused engineering contributions) but we need to study/learn more about how kids are ingesting, processing and applying media in order to adjust the volume accordingly.

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