The Planet is Suffering. Maybe a Laugh Will Help?

Gustav Martner. Photo: Greenpeace
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Gustav Martner. Photo: Greenpeace

Reading Time: 3 minutes

The planet is suffering.  Maybe a laugh will help?

I’m not sure, but there is a possibility that gluing yourself to the M25 and throwing pasta sauce at a Monet are not the most effective ways to stop humanity from destroying the planet. If so, what else can we do? Well, we could try having a laugh.

When dealing with humans there are lots of uncertainties at play. But one thing we know for sure is that no one likes to be a joke. And smart communicators and activists are starting to act on that insight.  It’s a comforting thought that no money in the world can protect people who are misusing their power from well-deserved ridicule. This is beautifully illustrated by the scene in Monty Python’s Flying Circus’ feature film ”Life of Brian” from 1979, where a crowd of people laughs at Pontius Pilate (the fifth governor of the Roman Empire in Judea, from 26 to 36 AD) for his inability to pronounce the letter ”R”.  – Welease Bwian!

I usually don’t encourage mocking people, but if it’s done with smartness and humor and the subjects of the joke are persons supporting the demise of our planet, I would argue they are fair game.

So, for your inspiration, here is my top 5 list of this type of communication initiatives:

5. Gustav Martner crashing the Cannes Lions award ceremony

Gustav Martner. Photo: Greenpeace
Gustav Martner. Photo: Greenpeace

In June 2022 Gustav Martner, The Head of Creative at Greenpeace Nordic and former ad man took the microphone and made the advertising award ceremony at Cannes Lions awkward. He returned his lion statue, the most coveted prize in ad land, to a baffled representative for the festival. Why? He had won it for his work on a VW campaign in 2007. 

Gustav stated ”Since the Paris Agreement at least 300 awards have been given out at Cannes Lions to advertising for more air travel, to oil companies that greenwash and to ads that make cars with polluting combustion engines more desirable. Only a few agencies have internal restrictions or policies when it comes to making profit on helping the world’s worst polluters”. The initiative was part of Greenpeace’s campaign urging lawmakers to ban fossil fuel ads.

4. The 125th Annual Demon Awards

The Demon Awards. Photo: Truth
The Demon Awards. Photo: Truth

This is a gem. An ad from 1998 by the agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky for Truth – an anti-tobacco campaign funded by money from a settlement with the tobacco industry.  The ad uses the familiar concept of award shows like the Oscars to remind viewers that the tobacco industry every year kills more people than illicit drugs, organized crime and suicide. The trophy comes in the shape of a golden skull, and it’s handed over by Dracula himself. Don’t miss the cameo appearance of der Führer.

3. The Edelman backlash

The Edelman backlash.  Photo: Clean Creatives
The Edelman backlash. Photo: Clean Creatives

In 2023, also at the Cannes Lions ad festival, the environmental group Clean Creatives targeted Richard Edelman, the CEO of the public relations giant Edelman who works for fossil fuel clients like Aramco, Chevron, Shell, and Abu Dhabi National Oil Company.  In a video posted on Instagram, they followed a clearly uncomfortable Richard Edelman with signs saying ”This person works with fossil fuel clients” and ”This person is happy to greenwash fossil fuels”. The documentation of the stunt was perfected with the soundtrack from ”Curb Your Enthusiasm”.

2. Climate name change

Climate Name Change. Photo:
Climate Name Change. Photo:

A campaign from 2012 by the agency Barton F. Graf for – an international environmental organization addressing the climate crisis. The initiative proposed a new naming system for hurricanes and tropical storms. One that names them after policymakers who deny climate change, instead of naming them after ordinary people like Katrina, Sandy and Lee, as The World Meteorological Organization does today.

The campaign video envisions what news reports on storms and hurricanes could look like in the future with the new naming system. Using now classic lines like: ”Senator Marco Rubio is expected to pound the eastern seaboard sometime early tonight” ”If you value your life, please seek shelter from Michelle Bachman” ”Speaker John Boehner is really doing a number on this coastline”.

1. Havas making an ass of themselves

Havas. Photo: Robert Mayhew
Havas. Photo: Robert Mayhew

When Havas, a French multinational advertising and PR company, in 2023 pitched for and won the global media account for the fossil fuel giant Shell they received criticism from a lot of organizations. Many of them wondered how the company could keep its B Corp certification – a certification that measures a company’s social and environmental impact. 

The funniest, most elegant and probably also most effective response came from Rob Mayhew who is known for his satirical videos about ad agency life. He posted a video on social media in which he said the exact same words that the CEO of Havas, Yannick Bolloré had uttered in an interview with the trade magazine Campaign when he tried to rationalize his company’s decision.

Do you have other examples of intelligent, funny and world-improving initiatives? Share them with me. johan[dot]gustafsson[at]differ[dot]com Let’s save the planet, one laugh at a time

Read other articles by Johan:

The Renaissance of Ugly

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