Cause-related film casts climate movement in horrific light
I’ve been in the public relations business for more than 30 years, all of them for Christian causes–including campaigns for Christian environmental organizations. And I still provide counsel to clients in these areas. I’ve seen and been involved in a number of very good campaigns, and I’ve seen and been part of some duds. But I’ve now seen what may very well be the worst public relations campaign of all time. It is so bad that you might think it is a parody of ads by environmental extremists. But it is not a parody; it’s a real film released by the UK-based group called 10:10 that exists to encourage people around the world to cut carbon emissions. Here’s a YouTube version. [Do be cautioned that it is fairly graphic and stomach-turning].
If you choose not to view the video: it depicts several scenes, including an opening classroom of elementary school children, where a teacher encourages students to participate in an effort to reduce emissions on Oct. 10, and to ask their families to do so, as well. She asks for a show of hands of those who plans to take part; all do, except two waifs. The teacher is nonplussed, says “no pressure,” then casually pushes a button that blows up the two reluctant students, with blood and guts splattering all over the classmates and the room. The other scenes shows similar mayhem at a workplace, a sports field, etc.
You get the idea It’s the kind of idea that comes up when creative sessions get long. Everyone has their snicker, and it ends up on the cutting-room floor.
But 10:10 creative team and management went with it, presumably to trade publicity for good taste. They’ve received publicity, but very bad publicity—appropriately.
This is a public relations disaster from my viewpoint as a PR professional, and specifically as a communicator who helps Christians in environmental work to persuade people of faith to care for God’s creation, and to consider our responsibility as believers to help stop pollution that is harming our children and will leave the earth less hospitable for our descendents.
The characters who released this film don’t understand the weaknesses and vulnerability of the “climate change brand,” and do not understand target audiences—beyond perhaps very small segment of our population.
The 10:10 No Pressure film fails in many areas:
1. Poor Taste: It shows extremely poor taste with a gory, graphic depiction of the murder of non-participants.
2. Heavy-handedness: It plays to the stereotype that radical environmentalists are glum, bullying, and self-righteous. If you even hesitate to go with their program, you should be eliminated.
3. Population control: It plays to another damaging stereotype, that all environmentalists care little about people, whom they see as expendable in the interest of protecting the earth. Some enviros have played to this historically with population control planks that seek to reduce population with means abhorrent to the Christian community (such as abortion), to reduce impacts on the planet. Christians in creation care work strongly denounce this idea. As Rusty Pritchard, president of Flourish, says:
Some secular environmentalists have adopted so-called “population” platforms, which often include proposed policies including expanded access to (and public funding of) abortions, and a dangerous reliance on modern contraceptive technologies in place of strengthening families and communities. Such policies run counter to our conservative principles and Christian values. We strongly denounce the appeal to population control as a part of environmental care because denies the dignity of humans (often drifting into racism and misanthropy), and fails to recognize that human life is a gift to the world and not its scourge.
4. Unwise PR strategy: Bad publicity is, well, bad. And how does exploding children resonate with the core message of carbon reduction or global warming? The button could have sent the kids to Bangladesh to deal with flood waters, or to the Sahel to work the barren land. It doesn’t work beyond the sick guffaw.
5. Extremism hurts movement: These extreme messages, even if unintended, damage the mainstream efforts of many good groups such as Bill McKibben’s 350.org who are building up to the 10-10-10 work projects and education on climate change on Oct. 10, 2010.
Distribution: To make matters worse, 10:10 botched the engagement plan, from what I can tell from limited information. I’ve learned that they sent the film to the leaders of a Baptist seminary here in the U.S., which naturally hit with a thud. Now this is a seminary that has been open and even progressive in its consideration of Christian responsibility on environmental matters, including climate change. But the reaction to this disastrous film was predictable: horror and disgust. Not helpful!
If the organization sent the film to a Baptist seminary, I can only imagine that it was distributed widely in the Christian community. This will not help our efforts among evangelicals.
Crisis Mismanagement: Finally, 10:10 botched the crisis communications. When the criticism started flowing in, they issued what one blogger called a “nopology: It read:
“We ‘killed’ five people to make No Pressure – a mere blip compared to the 300,000 real people who now die each year from climate change.”
Later it admitted, “Unfortunately in this instance we missed the mark. Oh well, we live and learn.”
10:10 pulled the film, but made no effort to get it off the Internet, which probably would have been futile, although an effort would have been a good show.
After a week, they posted an apology. As I’ve found over the years helping people recover from PR blunders: late is rarely good enough.
The statement from the CEO reads:
Last week, 10:10 made available a short film. Following the initial reaction to the film we removed it from our website and issued an apology on Friday 2 October. Subsequently there has been negative comment about the film, particularly on blogs, and concern from others working hard to build support for action on climate change. We are very sorry if this has distracted from their efforts. We are also sorry to our corporate sponsors, delivery partners and board members, who have been implicated in this situation despite having no involvement in the film’s production or release. We will learn from this mistake. Today I have written to supporters and stakeholders explaining that we will review processes and procedures to make sure it cannot happen again. Responsibility for this process is being taken by the 10:10 board. The media coverage of the film was not the kind of publicity we wanted for 10:10, nor for the wider movement to reduce carbon emissions.
That is clearly an understatement.
This film clearly was supposed to be funny, in the Monty Python tradition. And I suppose it is funny to the same segment of the population that appreciated Monty Python when I was in college: groups of late-night, inebriated collegians unwinding on a weekend bender.
For the rest of us, it was disgusting and ill-conceived. And it is damaging to a climate movement that has made very few wise steps, and caught very few breaks, in the last year.