Anatomy of a Cannes Contender: "Climate Name Change" Turns Delusional Politicians Into Natural Disasters

With a simple name swap, 350action managed to make us laugh while pointing fingers at those who refuse to effect change.

We’ve all seen it before: a rain-slickered TV reporter clutches his microphone in the midst of an oncoming hurricane, giving up-to-the-minute storm reports, all the while hoping his feet spontaneously sprout roots to keep him grounded. It makes for riveting live TV—in terms of weather reporting, that is. Sadly, these severe weather events are getting more frequent due to climate change.

Still, not everyone believes there’s something wrong with Mother Earth, or that any of our human actions have any effect on climate. Among these so-called climate change deniers are a number of high-profile U.S. politicians, and in their equivocating or denial on climate change, they’re not necessarily supportive of legislation that could help the situation. Worse, their actions are largely unnoticed—so few American’s dissect the voting records of the Congressmen or Senators that awareness of who’s supporting or objecting to environmental policies is low.

To bring attention to the widespread apathy toward climate change, nonprofit group 350action and agency Barton F. Graf 9000 got a little personal. Tapping into the meteorological legacy of naming hurricanes after people—thereby marring the good names of unsuspecting Sandys, Irenes and Katrinas everywhere—"Climate Name Change" told the same storm story, but subbed in the name of prominent politicians who refuse to acknowledge climate change. So instead of citizen anger being directed at a whirl of wind and rain named Sandy, people could direct their ire at Michelle Bachman, a known climate change denier. The result is deadpan and absurd, but pointed in its attack.

"We knew we were going to call out politicians, so we were going to name names; the idea flowed right out after that," says agency founder and chief creative officer Gerry Graf. "We tried our best to be non-partisan, but what are you going to do? Voting history is what it is. We weren't that concerned about pissing anyone off." Here, Graf discusses how the agency put prominent politicians in the eye of the storm.

Get people angry

The brief was action. Everyone gets sad at the polar bears swimming for the tiny melting iceberg but they don't do anything. We wanted people to get angry and take action.

The secondary brief was for 350action to beef up their database of concerned voters. So a petition seemed like an easy way to get people online and while they were there we educated them on voting records and insane quotes from politicians and let them tweet directly to those politicians. We provided email and Twitter handles. Everyone who signed the petition was added to 350's database.

Get hard-hitting with humor

Advertising is so emotional and heartfelt and serious these days. People watched and shared the video because it was entertaining as hell; the serious message came after you laughed. It was the kind of strategy The Daily Show uses.

But let the humor come from the truth

This was meant to look like serious news footage. The video idea was obvious although we rewrote it about 20 times. We studied real hurricane footage and lifted quotes directly just replacing the hurricane names. When we tried to make it harsher, with words reporters didn't use. It felt forced.

Mobilize powerful allies

350action has a sizable database of people concerned with climate change, we sent it there. We had a call with Al Gore’s people and they blasted it out too. They were hoping for 25,000 signatures on the petition, they got over 108,000.

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