Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Bedtime Stories: Scaremongering Or Guilt Tripping?

Image : DECC

The DECC's latest Act On CO2 TV ad campaign, "bedtime stories", is facing investigation from the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and has come under fire from bloggers and commentators (avid environmentalists and climate change sceptics alike) for being simple "scaremongering".

The TV ad features a father reading a bedtime story to his young daughter. The picture book tells the story of a mystery land, "...where the weather was very very strange". We see crying rabbits in a dried up river bed. As the story goes on to say that "Scientists said it was caused by too much CO2 which went up into the sky when the grown-ups used too much energy", we see a jagged tooth dark-limbed monster hanging in the sky, threatening all below. The main point, that "it would be the children of the land who would have to live with the horrible consequences" is emphasised by a sad drowning dog before we hear that 40% of CO2 emissions come from things like "keeping our houses warm and driving cars". Finally the daughter asks if there's a happy ending. We don't see the father's response.

So, who is this ad aimed at ? Who is it designed to touch and to spur into action? According to the DECC: "Running on television, press, outdoor posters, cinema and online the campaign is designed to raise awareness of climate change, convey the imminence and the need for urgent action".

If we filter out the many YouTube comments from those denying the link between CO2 emissions and climate change or from those who deny that climate change is happening at all, we are left with a consensus view that the ad is pure "scaremongering".

But I'm not so sure. OK the ad does use some fairly deliberately crude imagery (the monster in the sky, drowning dog, weeping rabbits) to depict a horrible helpless situation, but the fluffy illustrated style is clearly not aimed at children. It's aimed at the parents. The people who make choices about their lifestyles now that will leave a legacy for their children. As the voiceover at the end of the advert says: "It's up to US how the story ends. See what YOU can do. . . "

So is this "scaremongering". Does it set out to frighten parents or frighten their children? My opinion is that it's a sledgehammer exercise in "guilt-tripping". Does that work? Will people look at their children and, having seen this ad, suddenly feel an overwhelming sense of "My God, what am I doing to the world and what am I leaving my kids to deal with?". I don't think so.

Making people feel bad or feel guilty will surely only raise their defences. Particularly when it involves criticising the way they care for their children - because that's what the ad is really saying. If you don't care about your kids, carry on doing what you're doing. They probably feel a little guilty already and reminding them of this guilt will result, in most cases, in hostility. It will press the wrong buttons.

Let it come from the kids. Let the kids make their own parents feel guilty and perhaps something will change. That's why I think it's so very important to get into schools and make sure that kids of all ages are being presented with facts about climate as well as some simple, easy to implement solutions. There are already organisations and charities like EcoACTIVE out there doing just that. There are a multitude of "teachers resources" provided by a multitude of charities but what's really missing is big-budget (this single ad campaign is reputed, according to BBC News, to have cost £6m by the way) well coordinated Government commitment to environmental education.

1 comment:

  1. I have heard that the ad was commissioned on the back of research that showed that many parents know the dangers to following generations but don't act. Someone thought that guilt would work here in the same way that it's used in the "stop smoking" campaigns.