Your favorite TV show has ended. You've just seen the ads for Lipitor and light beer
, and here comes another:
"Tick. Tick. Massive heat waves.
One after another, the faces of small children
Tick. Tick. Severe droughts.
look serious, maybe even upset.
Tick. Go to www.fightglobalwarming.com.
While there's still time."
Yikes - did some ad exec get lost
on a horror movie
set? Not quite.
Fred Krupp, president of Environmental Defense, has teamed with the Ad Council, which has challenged social norms with public service
campaigns like "Friends don't let friends drive drunk" and Nancy Reagan's "Just say no."
In a series of TV and radio
spots that one publicist termed "edgy" - and that a global warming skeptic called "the ultimate triumph of propaganda over science" - the group is hoping to spawn a massive shift in social awareness that will send millions rushing to turn down their thermostats, inflate their car tires and recycle their plastic.
All in an effort to reduce carbon emissions, which many scientists say contributes to global warming.
The first ads in what will be a multi-year campaign are going out to TV and radio
stations nationwide Thursday. As is the norm with public service
ads, stations will run them at no cost, when they choose.
Krupp got the idea about a year ago. Struck by what he called a "cascade" of scientific evidence, he said he realized global warming is "the overwhelming environmental issue of our generation ... Our children's future is at stake."
He called Peggy Conlon, president of the Ad Council, who was intrigued. A global warming ad campaign would be a first, she said.
The council, which conducts public service ad campaigns with the help of volunteer agencies, stays away from politics. But it's big on mobilization - for seat belts, for father involvement, for youth volunteerism, against crime.
Environmental Defense had already worked with the Ad Council in the 1980s. Remember "If you're not recycling, you're throwing it all away"? Back then television and radio stations donated about $300 million worth of ad time, Krupp said. Recycling increased.
Another of the ads, all done by Ogilvy New York
, shows a fragile plant growing near train tracks, then a speeding locomotive. A man appears. "Global warming," he intones over the "chugga-chugga of the train. "Some say irreversible consequences are 30 years away. Thirty years? That won't affect me."
He walks off. But behind him - right in the path of the train! - is a little girl, blonde curls framing her puzzled frown.
The ads steer viewers and listeners to www.fightglobalwarming.com,
which also debuts Thursday and includes tips on how Americans can stick to a "low-carbon diet."
James Taylor, an editor with the Heartland Institute, a public policy organization that is skeptical of global warming, said the campaign is partisan and out of line with the Ad Council's stated mission.
"To the extent that the Ad Council says individuals should take advantage of opportunities to be energy-efficient in a general sense, that is quite admirable," he said. "But any implication that the scientific debate over global warming is settled ... is simply wrong."
He said the campaign "amounts to nothing more than an end-run around a skeptical Congress, a skeptical president and a sharply divided scientific community."
The Ad Council's Smokey the Bear "gave us advice on preventing forest fires," Taylor said. "He did not jump into the debate on national forest policy."
President Bush has declined to take action on greenhouse gas emissions, saying the case is unproven.
Many scientists have found indisputable evidence that the planet is warming. The Arctic polar cap is melting, and sea levels are rising. But there's debate over what's causing it and whether it's a short-term blip or a persistent trend.
Either way, is a viewing public fixated on March Madness and sitcoms really ready to confront the end of the planet as we know it and do something about it?
"They're up against a huge amount of clutter," says Los Angeles marketing
consultant Larry Londre.
Besides, if people haven't turned down their thermostats by now, what's going to make them start? The public has heard most of this stuff for years - to spare not only the planet, but also their wallets.
There have been some successes. Check out the Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star Program, which offers energy advice and labels products - especially home appliances
- that are the most efficient.
Staffers there have been harping on energy since 1992. They are well aware of "how many times you have to be told something before it sticks," said Maria Vargas, a spokeswoman.
Eventually, however, it does. Last year, the EPA estimates, the program saved Americans $12 billion on energy bills and prevented greenhouse gas emissions equal to that generated by 23 million vehicles.
Krupp thinks that a survey
Environmental Defense Commission commissioned shows people are primed for more action.
Of 1,200 people interviewed from Feb. 27 to March 2, seven in 10 Americans believe global warming is happening. Most believe it is due to human activity. And 59 percent think they can do something about it.
"This is big and important, but it's also solvable," Krupp said. "When you think about so many other major challenges we face, there comes a moment when we move from fear to action. We're at that moment now on global warming."
If every American household switched three regular light bulbs to compact fluorescent bulbs, he said, they would save the equivalent of the emissions from 3.5 million cars.
The ads remind Tom Hollihan, associate dean of the Annenberg School
at the University of Southern California
, of the 1964 presidential campaign ad that featured a little girl plucking petals off a daisy. An unseen man spoke about the threat of nuclear holocaust if Barry Goldwater were elected.
"They're borrowing from the same playbook," Hollihan said. "The notion of a ticking clock, irreversible harm. It's a time-tested, persuasive strategy."