"The clock has ticked down to zero," United Nations climate director Yvo de Boer told negotiators from nearly 200 nations at the opening of the U.N's 15th Climate Change Conference (COP15) Monday.
De Boer was referring to the urgent pressure on the world's biggest greenhouse gas emitters to reach consensus on how to slow the advance of global warming. But he might as easily have referred to another daunting challenge: how to communicate COP15's import to a global citizenry far removed from the talks.
Many campaigns have sounded the drumbeat of climate urgency ahead of the Copenhagen conference, which takes place from Dec. 7 through Dec. 18. They include a celebrity studded awareness drive called "Tck, Tck, Tck," a Siemens brand campaign tied to COP15, and a global event series hosted by 350.org, among others.
The most ambitious effort may be the U.N.-backed "Hopenhagen" campaign, which attempted the modest task of rebranding Denmark's capital for the month. Things started off well enough. A splashy launch at the Cannes Lions festival in June proclaimed that more than a dozen agencies would support the "open source" concept. But the campaign nearly collapsed before it could join the chorus trumpeting the talks.
Ad Industry Rallying Cry
The campaign was unveiled with the support of dozens of agency, media, and brand partners and a modest proposal: Hey, let's rebrand a city.
"Hopenhagen" would spread with the help of donated media and all channels, and audacious experiential elements such as the swapping of "Hopenhagen" for "Copenhagen" on digital displays in European airports. Denmark's foreign ministry gave its blessing.
Seth Farbman is worldwide managing director of Ogilvy & Mather and president of the agency's OgilvyEarth practice. He said the campaign's goal in a nutshell is to make the voice of ordinary people heard at COP15. "Loosely, it's to show the delegates in Copenhagen that the world's citizens care, are watching and expect a positive outcome," he said.
Partners Fall Away
All the major agency conglomerates -- Havas, Publicis, WPP, Dentsu, Omnicom, and Publicis -- had committed at least one creative or media agency to work on the campaign, which existed under the central management of the International Advertising Association. In the campaign's first weeks the partners succeeded in launching a site at Hopenhagen.org to educate consumers and capture petition signatures. The Web presence also let people express "messages of hope" to be delivered along with the petition and charted on an interactive map.
The campaign brief included plans for an "open source" campaign that would engage creative agencies and people around the world in message creation.
By mid-fall however, with the recession deepening and the ad industry in free fall, the burden had fallen largely to Ogilvy and the campaign was in danger of falling flat.
Farbman is reluctant to discuss what led to Ogilvy's predicament, or why previously enthusiastic partners were no longer involved. Whatever the reason, the upshot was that much donated media was not forthcoming on the scale hoped, and many creative agency partners were no longer attached. Draftfcb, Euro RSCG, Dentsu and five other agencies dropped out, a total of eight of 13 mentioned in the June campaign announcement. Some, like R/GA, made contributions at an early stage but then stopped working the campaign. (Among those still listed as Hopenhagen partners are MDC Partners' Colle+McVoy, IPG's McCann Worldgroup, and Omnicom's Ketchum.)
Ogilvy stuck with it because the project mattered to Farbman and the team at OgilvyEarth.
Farbman took Ogilvy's plight to Advertising Week in New York, and to the Images & Voices of Hope media summit in the Catskills -- both in late September. His team also called on GroupM, Ogilvy's sister media agency network at WPP, to drum up media donations. GroupM came through, calling on a long list of media partners that includes the likes of CNN, Yahoo, NY Mag, and IAC. Much of the donated media was secured by GroupM agency Mindshare. JCDecaux provided major billboard and airport advertising space around Europe, an important visual presence.
"We've seen media come in steadily through their efforts," he noted.
Ogilvy also brought its own public relations muscle to bear on the effort. That effort was assisted by John Bell, who runs the agency's digital influence group and is the outgoing president of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association.
The digital influence strategy focused on identifying the right individuals, group blogs, and Web sites to promote Hopenhagen. It has yielded an important partnership with Huffington Post, which hosted a series of posts under the campaign's banner. Guest bloggers include high-profile figures in the climate debate, such as Lord Mayor of Copenhagen Ritt Bjerregaard, Al Gore, and Mitchell Stanley, president of the National Center for Sustainable Development.
Huffington Post also played host to a contest to select an "Ambassador to Hopenhagen," a figure voted on by the site's visitors who will symbolically represent millions of "citizens" of Hopenhagen from around the world. The winner, scientist, and environmental educator David Kroodsma, will post commentary and be given an official schedule of events during the month.
Additionally, Huffington Post will get first access to video produced by Hopenhagen's team of six staffers who are on the ground in Copenhagen. That team is also posting Twitter and Facebook updates, and manning on-the-ground events such as stages, video screens, and a series of "hope boxes" where people give messages of hope that are then broadcast online.
"Now that we've created a group of people interested in following [us], we've got to feed the beast, Farbman said.
Hopenhagen's Facebook page is a modest success, having accumulated 36,000 fans. Campaign staffers use the page to push status updates and content to those people. Earlier this week they used it to distribute a video of a five-story globe the campaign installed in Copenhagen at the site of the talks.
The U.N.'s original goal for COP15 was to ratify a treaty to replace the Kyoto protocol, the 1997 greenhouse gas reduction treaty which expires in 2012. Political realities have intervened in the form of the U.S. healthcare debate, among other factors, making the signing of a new treaty impossible. "The opposition on climate change is by and large the same opposition on healthcare," noted Farbman.
The new best-case scenario for COP15 is that delegates can hash out a consensus with an eye toward a legally binding agreement next year.
How much can a consumer campaign hope to achieve on such a complicated political issue? After all, the most important constituents in the negotiations are the delegates themselves.
Ogilvy and its partners realized this, but applying direct pressure to delegates was not in the campaign brief. "We have to remember we are doing this on behalf of the [U.N.] Secretary General," Farbman said.
They left the hard line to others, such as the "TckTckTck" campaign headlined by former Secretary General Kofi Anan and created by Havas (originally a "Hopenhagen" agency). A series of billboard ads created by "TckTckTck" partner Greenpeace will greet travelers at the Copenhagen airport with digitally aged faces of President Barack Obama, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, and other world leaders apologizing for failing to reach a comprehensive treaty at Copenhagen.
The caption: "I'm sorry. We could have stopped catastrophic climate change... we didn't."
Hopenhagen's tone is softer, and admittedly a little fuzzier. "Which message, which brand, which badge you like the best, that's a personal decision. Ours is very focused on optimism and hope and is frankly less specific, so that people can interpret what it is they want to tell," said Farbman.
What's next for Hopenhagen? With the heavy lifting already done on COP15, that question now looms before Farbman and his team at Ogilvy. The unofficial close of the campaign is the end of 2009, after which the U.N. will need to determine whether to continue it.
"What we've developed now with Copenhagen is a community of people highly active, highly motivated to change," he said. "The real work begins after Copenhagen."
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Until March 2012, Zach Rodgers was managing editor of ClickZ's award-winning coverage of news and trends in digital marketing. He reported on the rise of web companies, data markets, ad technologies, and government Internet policy, among other subjects.
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