Global warming: Are Britain's TV ads too scary for children?
Britain's 'Bedtime Stories' TV ads aim to make parents feel guilty about the impact of global warming on their children. But critics say that fear tactics don't work.
LONDON – Warnings that time is running out for the fight against global warming raises the question: Is frightening the public into changing their behavior really the world’s last hope?Skip to next paragraph
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In Britain, a costly government television advertisement has fallen foul of regulators investigating complaints that it is misleading and too “scary” for children.
But it’s not just hundreds of parents who are unhappy with the commercial, which aims to make adults feel guilty about the impact their carbon emissions are having on their children’s future. Environmentalists and green PR experts say scare tactics just don’t work.
“Bedtime Stories,” a minute-long, £6 million ($10 million) production, features a father telling his daughter a story about “a very, very strange” world with “horrible consequences” for children. Cutting to cartoon scenes of streets and houses underwater, it shows animals and people drowning and a looming monster representing global warming. (Scroll down to watch the video.)
However, consultants who helped the British government draw up climate change communication strategies in the past warn that engendering guilt merely “shuts down” people. Criticizing home and family is also unproductive.
“They both lead to what’s called psychological reactance ... especially when the messenger is an unpopular government,” according to Henry Hicks, a consultant at the green PR firm, Futerra.
Futerra warns against relying on concern about children’s future. It pointed to surveys that had in fact found that childless people may care more about climate change than those with children.
Nevertheless, the government is standing by “Bedtime Stories,” which was launched after its research suggested more than 50 percent of Britons did not think climate change would affect them. Three-quarters (74 percent) also said they would make lifestyle changes now if they knew climate change was going to affect their children.
Britain’s energy and climate change minister, Joan Ruddock, defended the campaign, insisting: “The ad is directed at adults, but we know that the proposition to ‘protect the next generation’ is a motivating one.”
Nevertheless, critics suggest better strategies could be based on behavioral economics, “nudge” philosophy, and ideas on how design can influence behavior.
Fears have long been leveraged in advertising by environmentalists, such as a World Wildlife Fund ad depicting giant sharks circling a stormy New York skyline. Fear and an appeal to parental instincts have, meanwhile, also been employed by Greenpeace in an advertisement produced in Finland featuring a baby left alone in a bath filling up with water.