– 27 March 2013

The big switch off is part of The Earth Hour campaign, which has been running since 2007 and was conceived by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) with the help of the Leo Burnett Company. Aimed at creating awareness of the impact the consumption of power by human beings is having on all the other inhabitants of this planet; this WWF inspired campaign encourages homes and businesses to switch off non-essentials and to think about the need for all of us to take action on climate change.

earth hour

Held on March 23, 2013 from 20h30 to 21h30 during the local time of participating countries, the first event in Sydney saw some 2.2 million locals down under switching off non-essential lights.

Under the slogan “Uniting people to protect the planet”, this year Earth Hour began in Uganda, a state where 6000 hectare of forest is destroyed each month. The WWF in that country pegged 2,700 hectares of degraded land that it challenged government, business and citizens to repopulate with about 500,000 trees. In Botswana the country’s former president, Festus Mogae took up the challenge by promising to plant 100,000 trees in a local region where land has been compromised, called Goodhope.

Earth Hour 2013 CEO and Co-Founder Andy Ridley said acts like this were by no way extraordinary: “People from all walks of life, from all nations around the world, are the lifeblood of the Earth Hour interconnected global community. They have proven time and time again that if you believe in something strongly enough, you can achieve amazing things. These stories aren’t unique, this is happening all over the world.”

Countries that participated in the event this year included Samoa, Fiji, New Zealand, Australia, Argentina, Papua New Guinea, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, Taiwan, Singapore,China,India, Dubai, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Greece, France, England, Italy, Denmark, Canada, and the United States of America.

Earth hour is a noble endeavour that is predicated on the idea that humans are good at heart. In reality, studies have shown that humans are not naturally inclined to behave appropriately when summarily told what to do. It’s just human nature to want to rebel to authoritative demand. For example those Eskom ads telling us to switch off, well, they’re just as likely to tick us off than have the desired effect.

Ogilvy CT met the complex challenge of trying to influence human behaviour by flipping the proposition: instead of cajoling people into being socially responsible, the idea was to make the concept into a fun, creative and inviting event. Creative Director Jacques Massardo, says, “This year we decided to take a different approach to Earth Hour. It seems people know about Earth Hour and what it stands for, but lack real motivation to participate. So instead of Earth Hour feeling like a bit of a chore when we all sit in the dark without being able to do much, we wanted to make it more of a calendar event.”

In the TV ad, the animation is fun and simple, reminiscent of that art exercise we used to do in grade school, when we would coat a white page in black wax crayon, and then scratch a picture, exposing the white of the page. The simple, white-on-black animation starts with the text “Things to do in the dark” and then portrays kids playing in the dark, looking at stars and so on. The soundtrack is (appropriately) acoustic: a single voice singing with a guitar: “There’s a lot to do in the dark” – a simple, catchy tune, with a simple, clear message: that it’s fun to be away from screens and all the trappings of modern society; it’s fun because it’s different.

The print versions use the same style, of white-on-black artwork, with various simple suggestions: “Be a Romancy Pants” suggests one, picturing a candle. “Dance! No-one’s watching,” “Scare the ba-jeepers out of someone,” has a kid in a ghost costume. It’s bound to bring a smile to even the most jaded cynic.

As an extension, the campaign drew on the assistance of commercial partners. A dedicated Facebook app linked through to venues and events that formed part of a much bigger whole. The Jo’burg Zoo held a night tour, the V&A Waterfront had an unplugged candlelit concert, SANBI Botanical Gardens hosted a night picnic with Jembe drummers. Various restaurants also participated by hosting candlelit dinners.

Hats off to Ogilvy CT for an intelligent and interesting campaign that scored loads of publicity, and that showed the agency and its client really understand human behaviour.