Movie studios are slowly incorporating environmental messages into mainstream film marketing.
Hollywood is certainly no stranger to environmental consciousness. From trading Hummers for hybrids to funding eco-awareness documentaries, movie stars and industry tastemakers are publicly extolling their own environmental causes and concerns. It was only a matter of time, then, before green messages began to color the publicity efforts of mainstream movies, too.
Implementing green strategies in movie marketing and PR campaigns is still an emerging practice, but it's one with enormous potential to reach previously unaffected audiences, says Jena Thompson, director of The Conservation Fund's Go Zero challenge.
In late May, the Arlington, VA-based charity partnered with Universal Pictures to launch "Get On Board," an environmentally conscious initiative tied to the studio's theatrical release of Evan Almighty.
Along with participating in Evan Almighty publicity efforts, including a massive, green-themed premiere party, The Conservation Fund launched the "Almighty Forest" on Universal's "Get On Board" Web site, a virtual woodland where movie fans can help the production "zero out" its carbon dioxide emissions by planting trees. For every $5 tree planted and decorated in the virtual forest, Thompson says, The Conservation Fund would plant one in real life. Within three months, the site had raised $150,000 dollars and had planted more than 2,200 trees.
"This was the first time we've seen a major motion picture invite fans and everyday Americans to give back to the environment," Thompson says. It's through relationships such as this, she adds, that the organization has "the ability to engage a whole new audience that wasn't that interested before."
Universal also promised to credit every person who made an online donation on the Evan Almighty DVD, notes Evan Fong, executive director of publicity for Universal Studios Home Entertainment. Scheduled for an October 9 release, the DVD includes eco-friendly extras such as environmental tips recorded by the cast and an overview of the efforts to make the film's production more environmentally efficient.
Warner Bros. Entertainment, too, looks for new opportunities to incorporate green messages in cross-promotions "where it makes sense," says Shelley Billik, VP of environmental initiatives for the Burbank, CA-based studio.
But "it is kind of a tricky line to walk," she notes. "Opportunities have to seem natural."
One such opportunity was the Warner Home Video March DVD release of the Oscar-winning animated feature Happy Feet.
When Warner Bros. Pictures originally released the film in theaters, it was promoted as an upbeat, family-friendly movie about a dancing penguin learning to appreciate his unique talent; messages about environmental awareness were not apparent in marketing efforts.
But to many moviegoers, there was no mistaking Happy Feet's green-leaning messages, cautioning against the impact of industrial overfishing. That allowed the studio to use the DVD release as a marketing tool to subtly inform viewers who might not be aware of issues threatening marine life.
Influenced in part by anecdotal audience reaction, for the DVD release, Warner Bros. took "our first foray into seeing how the public responds to an environmental message," Billik says.
In addition to a two-minute autoplay PSA about the overfishing situation, Warner Home Video inserted cobranded copies of the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch National Seafood Guide in all DVD packages. The wallet-sized card lists information about how fish are caught and farmed with respect to the environment and health considerations, and is meant to be taken to restaurants and supermarkets.
The guide also directs viewers to Warner Bros. Studios' environmental initiatives Web site for more information about marine pollution; links to the aquarium, the Marine Stewardship Council, and the Ocean Conservancy; and conservation-empowering facts.
While some studios are slowly introducing green messaging, others choose to perfect their behind-the-scenes efforts before committing to consumer-focused campaigns, says Rachel Webber, director of energy initiatives at News Corp., parent company of Twentieth Century Fox.
While audience-facing marketing efforts can raise awareness and connect with moviegoers, they can't be done effectively until studios establish their own environmental credibility, Webber adds.
Like its industry counterparts, Twentieth Century Fox is hard at work. News Corp. launched a companywide energy-reduction initiative in May, including extensive analysis into eco-friendly film production. Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment conducted a supply-chain analysis of the carbon impacts of the production, manufacturing, and distribution of DVDs, and the studio worked with carbon consultants to understand and alter its overall environmental impact.
Though Fox is calling attention to its energy-efficient operations in various ways - including an fall TV tie-in with 24 - its Filmed Entertainment division isn't rushing to incorporate green messages into its movie marketing, Webber says.
"Building credibility takes time," she explains. "We have to get our own house in order first."
With so many mainstream films including enviro-integration - even The Simpsons Movie is ultimately about climate change - opportunities for media outlets to extend their reach via PR and marketing strategies will become ever more apparent. As The Conservation Fund's Thompson notes, those efforts can be an "incredibly powerful tool to reach out to audiences we weren't reaching before."
And that green message may be exactly the boost studios need to move this emerging trend to an entertainment marketing staple.
Eco-friendly ways for art to imitate life
"Green is transcending from a trend to becoming a way of life within the entertainment industry," says Debbie Levin, president of the Environmental Media Association, which pitches green story components to entertainment-content creators.
Here are some green scenes EMA suggests: Have characters...
Come back from shopping carrying canvas grocery bags
Drive hybrids or alternative-fuel vehicles
Turn off lights and computers when leaving the room
Ride a bike to school or carpool to work
Donate used household items to charity
Buy organic foods from farmers' markets
Wear T-shirts with eco-friendly slogans
Hang posters with environmentally aware messages
Have laundry drying on a clothesline for backyard scenes
Avoid using paper, plastic, and Styrofoam dinnerware