When Green Gets Jaded: Marketing Hope to Kids

tomorrowland movie posterJune 5, 2015 World Environment Day

“7 Billion Dreams, One Planet, Consume with Care.” As the UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) challenges dreamers worldwide to participate by pledging their own dreams and thoughts for turning this tanker around, one has to wonder…has the green movement become so jaded that kids will shoulder shrug their ‘tomorrows’ with resigned fate?

I’m not stumping for Disney, but I AM currently writing a post on why it’s imperative for kids NOT to get colored by greenwashing and giveupitis, instead looking with wide-eyed possibility a la “Tomorrowland” to market an optimistic outcome over the current dystopian planetary projects dominating the global narrative.

I have loads of respect for Jeff Jarvis, but his post that “Optimism Doesn’t Sell”  (Fear and Technopanic Do) is not an acceptable lens for a realistic generation of kids Forbes labeled “rebels with a cause”

I strongly believe we can ditch any prescient doomsday scenarios if we begin to rely on science and technology for sustainability, by engaging on a global scale of interdependence and collaborative thought, but that takes “Marketing Hope” not helplessness and resignation. If so-called “Gen Z” are the kids slated to become stewards of the planet, then we need to start seeding the massive movement away from cynicism and toward solutions. Now. Nature is Speaking.

Let’s listen up…And get it right. Onward!


2015 Tomorrowland post forthcoming, Original Post 2008: sky-cover.jpgI thought about doing a full deconstruction of Earth Hour because as this Wall Street Journal article says, “numbers may not be the best measure,” and we all know it takes more than just an hour, even Delta’s Sky Magazine (at left) paying tribute with a green fiction issue. There were so many snipes about EarthHour being ‘hot air’, pathetic tokenism, guilt absolution of consumerist frenzy and even claims ‘it should be grounded’ from some Australian news circles, (particularly surprising, since the event originated in Sydney) that I decided to look into the jaded color of green being brought to the forefront to see how we can counter-market cynicism.

Savvy media consumers cherry-pick greenwashing from scientific, economic, and socio-emotional angles…I embrace that fully. And when cause-marketing taps star power as we wrote about here (LiveEarth, Bono, DiCaprio etc.) the sarcasm pops up a notch with celebrity hood ornament status and corporate coffer deconstruction…Fair enough, and in fact, ESSENTIAL.

BUT…aside from the turbo-clucking and chicken scratching analysis of minutiae, there’s only one small instance where I see a positive as a potential negative this round, summed in this blog commentary:

“There are people who think that by turning off their power for an hour once a year Global Warming will be avoided, Peak Oil will be postponed indefinitely, and fluffy pink bunnies will sing the Smurf song to rock their children to sleep. So they duly avoid watching telly for an hour once a year and then get up to drive their SUV to work the next day, thinking that they’ve “done enough.” –Gary, 1:30pm, 3-30-08 EW blog

Yah. So how can we best inoculate kids with media literacy while shielding from apathy and giveupitis…AND balancing idealistic overkill with action-based hope? I say Earth Hour just did, by pointing us to ‘the big C’ of collaboration.

C as in…Collaboration. Care. Creativity…Consider It!


wwf-panda.jpgAnytime a cause can engage the largest conservation organization, (World Wildlife Fund, according to BusinessWire) 25 flagship host cities, (400+ cities on six continents!) receive massive corporate support, and partner with the bureaucratic powers that be in mega-cities to ‘let there be dark’ it’s time to trot out the big “C.”


C as in collaboration…the achievable unity of millions, collaborating on an initiative…

C as in CONSIDER what COULD be…

C as in community engagement…

C as in crisis, which often brings out the best in people…

C as in change agents and mobilization…

C as in caring…when millions voluntarily come together to achieve a task however small.

C as in children…learning to think outside of themselves and bring out the best in one another.

letter-c.jpgMind you, I’m no Pollyanna when it comes to sardonic skewering once I find an inauthentic disconnect, but this just doesn’t seem like one to me.

Can you imagine how difficult that task must’ve been getting buy-in from all the bureaucrats at multiple levels, from safety to synergy for Earth Hour to shut off all inessential lights on landmark icons and skyscrapers from Sears Tower and the Golden Gate Bridge to media forces like National Geographic and the Weather Channel?

That’s a C worthy of celebration, for it speaks to the “C” of creating a CONCEPT…capable of taking hold from small local gatherings to massive international appeal for virtually any given cause.

Yah, yah, I know, ‘but do virtual events like this WORK beyond enrollment and short bursts of activation?’

I decided to ask Brian Reich, one of my Age of Conversation co-authors, former Director of New Media at Cone, Inc. (a leader in cause branding, like AHA’s Go Red For Women Campaign, Avon Breast Cancer Crusade, etc.) and now a digital guru and Principal at EchoDitto. (all vibrant examples of branding that engages media and marketing in powerfully productive ways!)

Brian Reich first tackled the query from a marketing perspective,

”I think we still have a long way to go before organizations figure out how to convert the interest demonstrated for virtual events into real, meaningful, measurable action to address a social issue.

Right now, they seem comfortable measuring their success by the size of their email list or the amount of money they raise. Those are good metrics, but they don’t correlate directly to a major shift in the way we operate our lives.

To accomplish that, we are really talking about changing people’s behaviors (i.e. consuming less energy in every aspect of our lives, not just turning out the lights for one hour) and that takes time.

We are moving in the right direction as a society, and learning what works and doesn’t work, and that’s what is important right now.”

Then I asked specifically about youth participation…

How do ‘virtual events’ like the walk for water and ongoing cause channels at YouthNoise impact participation among youth?

How do we move beyond ‘being heard and the warm-n-fuzzies of feeling engaged’ to establishing precedents for change and shifting behavioral habits? Are virtual events more effective with a K-12 crowd or collegiate youth along these lines?

Brian Reich said,

“The competition for young people’s time and attention is so great that getting a major commitment of time from them can be a real challenge (ok, that might be true for everyone, not just young people).

If you can get a young person to sign up, get more information, play a game, or whatever — that IS an accomplishment. But having them show up every Saturday morning for two hours to help clean up a blighted neighborhood, or follow through on their commitment to consume less energy (when their parents are still buying gas guzzling vehicles) is a whole different thing.

There have been some limited successes, but for the most part, we see lots of excitement and buzz, but very little actual change. We’ll get there.”

This bodes well for Shaping Youth, and others who strongly believe in ‘Robin Hood Marketing’–Stealing Corporate Savvy to Sell Just Causes. (great book and blog by Katya Andresen by the way…it’s one of my personal picks along with Brian Reich’s new Media Rules that I’ll be including in my handout next week at the CCFC summit in Boston!)

media-rules.gifI’ll be featuring an interview with Brian Reich and his book Media Rules later in the week when I meet up with him in Boston (finally, a face to face, woohoo; we missed each other in Dallas when I served on his guest panel for the AHA on new media dynamics in youth fundraising!)

Oh, and yes, I’m STILL wrapping up ‘all girl week’ for Women’s History month, with the promised Girls Rock tween movie review and New Moon Girls Media site overhaul and Girls Horse Club features to come, we just keep getting supplanted by date-sensitive events…like Earth Hour!

On a final Earth Hour note, I must add this classic tween comment that came from none other than one of the Shaping Youth advisory board crew regarding ‘barriers to participation’…

jack-black.jpg“If they want kids to take action for Earth Hour, they need to get Nickelodeon to move the Kids’ Choice Awards to a different time…No one wants to shut off all the lights during a once a year event, not EVERYone has Tivo, you know!”

Um…yah. Sigh. Spoken like a true tween on the media scene. No one said being a change agent would be easy…On the bright side, if young kids are SO media savvy that they can articulate the power of network programming timeslots influencing behavioral choices…Then it’s just a matter of tapping into the positive side of that media machine and adjusting the trim tabs for healthier, more meaningful content overall. Right?

As David Bowie would say, “Turn and face the strain…Ch-ch-ch-changes! Time may change me, but I can’t trace time.”

Good job, Earth Hour!

It’s a start for engaging the big C…Children.


Visual Credits: Delta Sky inflight magazine cover, March edition

Nickelodeon/Jack Black host photo: Chris Cuffaro

A Few Random/Relevant Shaping Youth Kids’ Eco-Posts

Earth Hour & Kids: Darkness Becomes A Companion

Youth Engagement in Virtual Walk for Water

Kids’ Gardening, Spring Break & the Seinfeld Equinox

How to Turn People Green

If Kids Could Be Dolphins: The Power of Creative Play

Greentrepreneurs: Recycle Bank Shows Kids it Pays to Be Green

What’s A Kids Party Without Piles of Presents? EchoAge

Shaping Youth in Semi-Finals For Echoing Green Fellowship

S.F. Oil Spill Prompts Altruism & Activism in Kids

Planting Earthseeds Via The Magic School Bus: Eco-Media For Kids

The Great Turtle Race: Digital Media Cartoon Critter Fun (with conservation int’l)

Inspire Kids With Green Media: Kid-Vid & Games Galore

New Media Worldometers Help Data Click With Kids

Media Savvy Kids and Nature Deficit Disorder

The Nature of Tweens: Wired Worlds & Outdoor Ed

Shaping Youth Through Nature, Media Unplugged

Eco-Friendly Electronics, Go Green With Your Wired World

The 11th Hour: Leonardo DiCaprio’s New Documentary

5th International Symposium/Youth Collaboratory: Digital Earth

Green Media & Electric Cars: New Energy Shaping Youth

Care2 Make A Difference? Social Media/Kids

Digital Activism: Kids Stump for Change (World Wildlife Fund)

Youth Atwitter On LiveEarth Concert 7-07-07

Can Somethin’ Be Done About All This Consumption?

Inconvenient Truth Meets Digital Earth, Marketing Hope

Teen Thrive Earth Fest: Social Media & Green Teens

Can Somethin’ Be Done About All This Consumption?



  1. “Like a giant wave, lights went out at the Sydney Opera House, Wat Arun Buddhist temple in Bangkok; the Coliseum in Rome; the Royal Castle in Stockholm, the Parliament building in Budapest, London’s city hall, the CN Tower in Toronto, the Westin Peachtree Plaza — the tallest hotel in the western hemisphere, Sears Tower in Chicago and Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. In Israel, President Shimon Peres turned the lights of the city out with the flick of a switch.

    “The true power of Earth Hour can be seen in the tremendous opportunity for individuals, governments, businesses and communities around the world to unite for a common purpose, against a common threat which affects us all,” said Carter S. Roberts, president and CEO of World Wildlife Fund. “As the world witnessed on Saturday night, the simple action of turning off lights can inspire people around the world to action, and to making a serious long-term commitment to living more sustainable lives.”

    The goals of Earth Hour, Roberts said, were to raise awareness of climate change, encourage participants to make long-term commitments to living more sustainable lives, and demonstrate that by working together individuals can make a difference in the fight against this global issue. That awareness shone clearly through the darkness Saturday night.

    Earth Hour activities in support of this event rolled through virtually every time zone, with global participation in: Bangkok, Brisbane, Buenos Aires, Christchurch, Copenhagen, Dubai, Dublin, Fiji, Halifax, Manila, Montreal, Niagara Falls, San Juan, Scott Base (Antarctica), Sydney, Tel Aviv, and Toronto. A full list can be found at http://www.earthhour.org. “

  2. Oh, wait, I should add the corporate sponsors, to give credit where credit is due…

    Because this is one of our beliefs at Shaping Youth…that we CAN (and MUST!) align for a greater good and not separate into our fiefdoms…

    The ‘for profit and non-profit’ sectors need to ‘mashup’ as Anastasia Goodstein at YPulse.com would say, to create a more inclusive entity that benefits us all…

    So here ya go, unedited from the press release, sans editorial comment and judgmental deconstruction of motives and buy-ins:

    “Extensive Corporate Support: Earth Hour 2008 was supported by national partners Hewlett Packard, Esurance and National Geographic Channel, as well as other supporting corporations including The Coca-Cola Company, CBS Outdoor, Clear Channel, Cox Enterprises, Google, The Weather Channel and others who donated their time, products and services to help spread the word and raise awareness about this global issue. Not only have these organizations turned out their lights at many of their offices in the U.S., but they also donated several millions of dollars in advertising space in recognition of Earth Hour.

    Coca-Cola, for example, donated space on its prominent New York Times Square and San Francisco billboards and additional space in movie theaters, elevator screens, and shopping mall kiosks valued at $2.5 million, and darkened the digital Times Square billboard and world headquarters in Atlanta during Earth Hour.

    Google darkened its home page in the countries with official Earth Hour cities to raise awareness.

    Earth Hour got its start last year in Sydney, Australia, when more than 2 million people and thousands of businesses turned out their lights. While power consumption dropped more than 10 percent in that single hour, the message that climate change must be slowed shone brightly.

    About WWF

    For more than 45 years, WWF has been protecting the future of nature. The largest multinational conservation organization in the world, WWF works in 100 countries and is supported by 1.2 million members in the United States and close to 5 million globally. WWF’s unique way of working combines global reach with a foundation in science, involves action at every level, from local to global, and ensures the delivery of innovative solutions that meet the needs of both people and nature. Go to http://www.worldwildlife.org to learn more.”

  3. No one is ever going to be able to market to kids without either

    a) having something in common with them–whether it be family ties or age–or
    b)Knowing where they are easiest to reach.

    Just trying to get the younger population to do something on our every whim is not going to work, children need structure, but they also need to feel included to want to do something. Sometimes there is the extraordinary child who is actually interested in what you have to say, but for the most part they are all kids and their decisions are predetermined until they ‘think’ that they are ready to make decisions themselves.

    Marketing to them on a limited scope is not going to work, it’s not going to change their habits. Everything they see has to convey a message if they are to take action. McDonalds is a great example of this–terrible food, no service, but an advertising campaign that appeals to kids and makes them want to eat “Happy Meals”.

    The way I see it there are two good ways to get them to do something…
    1)integrate it into the school system
    2)put it on TV

    After that you need to make sure that changes from their actions are visible around them. As a youth I do not want to do with no reward (this is why so many kids hate school), I want to do and feel satisfaction.

    Some of the things that people are doing now are making a difference and getting youth involved in today’s important topics, but we need to not only be involved, we have to be “initiators”.

    Community service projects are a great thing to get involved, but if it is marketed towards youth chances are that it has a lower success rate than projects marketed towards adults. Why is it? Who knows…maybe kids just don’t like the work load, or maybe they see no benefit in their actions.

    Just food for thought for yah 🙂

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