The Night the Lights Went Out in Chicago

February 19th, 2008

Sure, green is cool… but how do you transform all that positive buzz into action by Joe and Joan Average?

Remember when NBC decided to go green for a week? If you’re like most of us, the answer is, well, sort of. Sure, it was remarkable that the network “inspired” a group of producers and pre-strike writers to develop green themed plots and sub-plots, recruited a host of big-budget advertisers to run their eco-friendly ads, and developed a “Green is Universal” campaign and peacock logo for November sweeps. But did the initiative really make a difference? Did those messages touch an eco-nerve? Were you encouraged to live green because “Greenzo” (aka David Schwimmer) told you so? Probably not.


Again, if you’re like most of us, maybe it’s because you’ve blocked out all things David Schwimmer. But it’s also possible you don’t remember because you never really connected with the messages NBC was sending. You couldn’t envision how eco-friendly living would directly affect your life. Kudos to NBC for its intentions, but for an abstract concept or message – like a green campaign – to make an impact, its audiences need a context in which they can visualize or experience it for themselves.

And that’s what Leo Burnett Chicago’s trying to do. Last year, the agency orchestrated the first-ever “Earth Hour,” an hour during which the entire city of Sydney, Australia turned its lights out to promote awareness of its client, the World Wildlife Fund. Now this year they’re expanding the initiative to more cities around the world including Bangkok, Copenhagen, Manila, Tel Aviv, Toronto, and of course, Chicago, where more than $1 million in free media has been donated to promote the event.

On the evening of March 29, cities around the world will turn out all nonessential lights for an hour in the name of the World Wildlife Fund, as well as all things eco-friendly. The campaign includes an Earth Hour website, which features a live countdown, running tally of participants and ways to live green every day.  While we’re constantly bombarded with campaigns to raise awareness, this is a great example of how to raise awareness, and create a real, memorable experience for audiences. My guess is, Earth Hour participants will remember what they were doing when the lights went out in their cities. Not so sure David Schwimmer will stand out quite as much.

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