‘We’ Could Do It — With Better Ads

Adweek_jpegThe "We" Campaign is an exciting foray into the mainstream marketing world for an environmental initiative.  Adweek takes a closer look at a few of its recent TV spots and tries to answer some questions –  Are they sending the right message?  Who is the audience?  What is the take-away?

Posted Aug. 25, 2008
By Barbara Lippert, Adweek

"Free us," the spot begins, with the words spelled out on screen in
a typeface so fluid and beautiful that it made me sit up and watch.
"Free us from our addiction to oil. Free us from $4.00+ gas. Save
us from this climate crisis. Give us truly clean energy. Use the
wind. Use the sun. There is a solution. There is no time to

Wow. These are compelling statements, spoken by William H. Macy,
(everyone’s favorite character actor) with cadences (and words)
suggestive of Martin Luther King Jr.’s "I Have a Dream” speech.
And all of it is underscored by urgent music supporting expertly
shot, almost WPA-style portraits of ordinary Americans and troubled
landscapes. I saw the spot on television and genuinely got excited.
Could it be that one of the presidential candidates had gotten so
serious about environmental change that his team had finally
crafted an ad with the sort of sophisticated take on populist
politics that really resonates?

No such luck. The spot is the latest in a series for the Alliance
for Climate Protection, a.k.a. the "we" movement, based on the name
of the Web site wecansolveit.org. Lines like, "We the American
people are no longer asking, we’re demanding," got me fired up. The
music indeed ends with a grand climax, but the solution portion of
the ad is pretty anti-climactic — all that’s offered after that
mighty call to action is the eco-green, M&M-like "we" logo and
a wecansolveit.org Web site listing.

We can move from "asking" to "demanding" all we want, but if
there’s no one at the top to listen, it’s just wind whipping around
without a power turbine. Maybe, these days I’m crankier and more
disappointed than most, but as a citizen watching all the sad
goings-on in Washington for the last four years, the ad made me
feel even more politically impotent.

OK, so I went to the Web site and signed up. Now what?

Let’s back up a bit. This is a real brain buster of an assignment,
taken on by the hugely smart and talented folks at The Martin
Agency. You might recall that wecansolveit.org is founded by former
vice president and now Nobel Prize-winner Al Gore, based on the
success of his presentation, "An Inconvenient Truth," which was
turned into a film and book. The budget is a liberal $300 million
over three years, some of it donated by Gore himself from "Truth"
proceeds. Still, it’s a nonprofit organization and, unlike the wind
and sun, Gore’s money is not a renewable resource. I know it’s
heresy to even suggest this in media circles, but is advertising
the smartest way to spend the money?

It would seem to me that rather than running commercials to get
private citizens to demand action from the man behind the curtain,
it might be better to spend it on lobbyists who are as powerful as
the folks now working on behalf of big oil, gas and coal. Then
again, presumably Gore knows how Washington works and obviously
thinks there’s value in advocacy advertising. Maybe people have
been resistant to this message because the advertising medium
itself seems a bit flimsy as a way of conveying information of such
global importance. But perhaps with enough media weight behind it,
the repetition could eventually bear fruit.

Certainly, while it was running, I found an earlier stage of the
campaign, bringing odd bedfellows together like Nancy Pelosi and
Newt Gingrich, sitting on a love seat in front of the Capitol
building in the pouring rain, rather cringe inducing. (She faced
him, stiffly saying something about "not often seeing eye-to-eye,
Newt" and all I could think of was eye of Newt.) But at least it
established clearly that this was not a partisan issue. (The one
with the two reverends, Al Sharpton and Pat Robertson, was
nominally better because Sharpton manages to jump off the screen
with anything he says.)

So even if it was too cutesy, it ingratiated itself with power
players and was memorable. Why forfeit that undeniable equity so
quickly? I appreciate that they wanted to move "from a request to a
demand." But are viewers aware that the time for requesting has

"Switch," the other spot that ran during the Olympics, is visually
confusing. It shows a giant white switch (that looks like a Claus
Oldenburg sculpture) set in the land as old, young, upper- and
working-class people discover it and worship it or touch it or, as
in the case with people in a city, move it. It’s a literal
reference to switching away from fossil fuels to cleaner energy.
But it doesn’t work. First of all, the switch looks like it’s made
out of big, shiny, toxic materials-definitely not eco-friendly.
Secondly, the switch gets thrown and nothing happens. It seems like
an unconscious metaphor for political impotence.

People are still getting to know what the initiative is. Whereas T.
Boone Pickens is in our faces, perhaps Gore has gone too far in the
other direction.  I understand the impatience, but with no real context, it seems as
if the demands are blowin’ in the wind.

Light switch ad here.

No Responses to “‘We’ Could Do It — With Better Ads”

  1. I think the WE campaign is waste of money so far.

  2. Eric, Some might disagree with you about WE. Why do you think that?

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