Deeming a piece of advertising a load of crap could possibly be considered a pejorative. Unless of course, poop is the point, as is the case with this piece from Earth University. In its effort to appeal for donations to the Costa Rica-based school that focuses on innovation in sustainability, Earth U put dung front and center by telling the story of how one graduate changed her local community with the help of some ingenuity and biodigesters.
“Susana and Her Load of Crap” is the delightful stop-motion tale, voiced by Anne Heche, of a woman named Susana who, upon graduation, turned her village’s crap problem into a source of sustainable energy. The story, what with its extensive—but tasteful—euphemisms for doodie, is meant to raise awareness of the university, the significant impact it’s graduates make, and induce people to donate.
“They asked us to do one simple thing, which was to raise awareness of Earth University among younger folks here in the states,” says Mike Kelley, planning director at The Martin Agency, the agency behind the work. “Most of their students are funded through donations and they realized they needed to get more individuals to donate. But the problem was most people in the U.S. hadn’t heard of them.”
Naturally, poop seemed like the right attention-getting solution. But the Earth Stories project didn’t start with a scatological bent. Kelley says the agency started by interviewing students, teachers, and donors, and made a trip to the university to see what it was all about. It quickly became clear that the students—most of whom where underprivileged kids from Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa—were the heart and soul of the school. “Once the kids leave EU, they just do tremendous things," says Kelley. “They educate farmers in sustainable practices, they start their own businesses, there are just countless stories of these students having an amazing impact on their communities after they go back after their education. Most of the graduates create, on average, four new jobs and there’s this massive ripple effect that’s very endearing. It’s a real draw for donors to give to this place because, as they say, there’s a bigger ROI on investing in a young kid’s education in sustainable agriculture that most things you can donate to."
After surfacing about 30 success stories, Susana’s story was chosen to represent the school’s promise. “We originally wrote five stories and it came down to the fact we could do one really well. We wanted to do one that would make a splash,” says creative director Wade Alger. “I think talking about poop and making it about sustainability is a great story.”
The choice of story is not all dung and games, though. Kelley says that EU is a pioneer when it comes to biodigesters, so while the story carries a comedic punch, it also embodies everything the school is about.
Alger says the story was written with a whimsical children’s-book style to exude a sense of hope. “If you’re targeting donors, tugging at heartstrings is pretty easy, but the basis of most children’s stories is that there’s a bit of hope in there. If a student is thinking of applying, we think with this piece a student might think ‘I could do something’.”
Kelley says that’s one of the most interesting things about what Earth U provides its students: a sense of empowerment. “It doesn’t take a lot to make change in these communities. It just takes some innovative thinking and some wherewithal about how to work around what you have to make things happen. And that’s what these kids do.”
The entire story elevated by captivating animation from Spanish artist Cesar Diaz Melendez, who created stop-motion sand paintings using actual earth from EU’s campus.
As for the sticky situation of talking about cow waste in a humorous yet tasteful manner, Alger says the only parameters placed on the copy came from the agency itself. “There were no handcuffs put on us. We just wanted to figure out how you talk about poop in a higher-level way,” he says. “A poop joke can go south pretty quick. It can be a low-hanging fruit for a joke but handled correctly I think it can be an inspirational story as well. And trust me, there are many other words we could have used other than poop and scat. The first draft was probably rated R! But it still has to work for them, so that was a good filter to put against ourselves.”