Outdoor ads are sometimes criticized as a form of visual pollution—obscuring scenic views, cluttering country highways or covering city streets—but some marketers are creating outdoor work that actively fights pollution, from toxic water to contaminated air.
In the Philippines, an 88-foot billboard that promotes Japanese natural cosmetics brand Shokubutsu Hana is made of vetiver grass, which has toxin-absorbing properties. Placed in Manila’s heavily polluted Pasig River, the billboard can cleanse up to 8,000 gallons of water a day. (While not a traditional outdoor ad, a Cannes gold Lion winner in the outdoor category similarly serves as a means to clean water: Produced by the charity Water Is Life, “The Drinkable Book” is a manual covering good sanitation and hygienic practices that also purifies drinking water, thanks to a paper coating that can destroy deadly bacteria.) In Peru, meanwhile, a billboard for engineering university UTEC purifies air up to five blocks away. Situated within the construction site of UTEC’s new campus, the billboard can filter 100,000 cubic meters of air per day.
Each campaign highlights a commitment to quality of life, reflecting positively on the organizations. In UTEC’s case, the university recognizes that growth and development can cause pollution but shows that it has the know-how to help mitigate the negative impact. These practical efforts go beyond raising awareness to providing solutions to real problems, addressing anxieties and improving lives immediately.
Chipotle’s new animated short film and mobile game, designed to “change the way the world thinks about its fast food,” follows on from 2011’s “Back to the Start.” That film, which was later edited into a TV commercial, depicts a family pig farm that turns into an “industrial animal factory” before the farmer regrets the move and reverts to his older ways. The latest, featuring Fiona Apple’s “hypnotic” cover of “Pure Imagination” from the original Willy Wonka, shows a young scarecrow caught up in the dark, menacing world of Big Food production. Authoritarian crows inject poultry with hormones and package meat labeled “100% beef-ish!” In both the movie and the game, the scarecrow must break out of the assembly line and forge his own path, growing food naturally to “cultivate a better world.”
As we noted in our 10 Trends for 2012 report, consumers are becoming more concerned about sustainability, a trend that’s on the rise. They’ve also become anxious about the processes behind food production (even spurring McDonald’s in Australia, for instance, to sponsor a TV film showing a group of Australians touring its operations, from farm to factory to retail). Chipotle harnesses these concerns and uses them to direct the public to a friendlier alternative: “The more you know about where your food comes from and what it takes to produce it, the more likely you are to take care in seeking out something that’s raised responsibly,” says Mark Crumpacker, Chipotle’s CMO, in a behind-the-scenes video.
While many are praising the film’s message, others have called it fear marketing that takes advantage of urban consumers’ ideological anxieties. While the film does stoke anxieties, it’s likely targeted at consumers already harboring concerns about their food and looking for alternatives.