Gore’s ‘We’ Campaign to Pack Digital Wallop

Approximately 68 percent of Americans now believe in global warming, according to a Yale/GfK Public Affairs study. Problem is, they’re still not doing much about it.

The well-funded Alliance for Climate Protection, chaired by Al Gore, hopes to change that. Odds are you’ve already come across elements of the Alliance’s new campaign, which will reportedly spend roughly $300 million on Internet, TV, radio, and other channels. The tagline: “We Can Solve It.”

How much of the “we” campaign’s creative, media, and grassroots spending is slated to go online? Its managers say digital channels are key to the national blitz, which is created in part by The Martin Agency of Richmond, Virginia. Line items include search, display, mobile, video, viral executions, and social marketing.

But Gore and company face some tough online challenges, particularly in the area of community. For instance, a number of Facebook groups and causes that appear to be related to the campaign have already sprouted up, and it’s not clear their operators have the best intentions.

Internet As Cause Marketing Hub

we banner.jpg Brian Hardwick, the Alliance’s communications director, said the mass marketing effort was engineered with the Internet in mind.

“One of the reasons we’re really excited about the Martin Agency coming on is that in their original pitch there was a huge and significant [digital allocation] budget-wise relative to other media platforms,” he said. “If our goal is to mobilize people… then having a big presence online and always optimizing that is key.”

The Martin Agency’s online involvement is focused on display ads and virals. Those graphical units are running now on AOL, Care2, WashingtonPost.com and other destinations. Future online advertising will feature video commentary from people who are “well spoken about climate change,” said Matt Howes, director of online communications.

The Alliance is buying a range of search terms, including “Climate Change” and “Al Gore.” A search on the latter turns up an ad with the copy “Stand with Al Gore.” The search buy is designed to capture traffic resulting from the campaign’s mass marketing efforts and any related media and blog coverage.

“The number of people searching for your organization who want to get involved is directly correlated to seeing it on TV or reading it in the newspaper,” said Hardwick.

The Site is the Thing

The “We” campaign Web site is the starting point for all online engagement — not counting social networking initiatives. That’s evident in print ads and the inaugural TV spot, “Anthem” (embedded below), in which the voice of actor William Macy asks viewers to join the campaign at WeCanSolveIt.org. Once there, visitors encounter numerous opportunities for digital engagement that blend emerging media (mobile alerts, embeddable content) with tried and true standbys (e-mail sign-up, forward to a friend, view ads).

Community-based aspects, including everything from e-mail alerts to the social marketing strategy, are managed in-house by the Alliance with support from M+R Strategic Services and perhaps other vendors. The campaign’s e-mail list has already grown to more than a million sign-ups.

Then comes the “solving” part. An Action Center offers specific opportunities for involvement, such as pleading with lenders to consider climate impact before financing new coal plants, or urging media outlets to quiz political candidates more about the environment. Embed codes for the broadcast spots are also available so enthusiasts can help amplify the message on blogs and social network sites. At right is the William Macy launch spot that drives people to the “We” site.

Yet while the site design is intuitive, the campaign’s developers seem to acknowledge it’s a touch staid. “The site you see now is just the start,” said Howes. “We’re already building on it and improving it… based on user feedback and what people are interested in.”

“We” relies on many partners ranging from Girl Scouts of America to Audubon, all of which will help it build community and broad momentum around climate issues. Online, the Alliance is one of two beneficiaries identified on the Climate Change cause on Facebook, which has racked up 1.8 million members and raised $23,000. It also plans to launch an app of its own for distribution on Facebook and MySpace.

“We’re helping our users who want to share stuff and who want to integrate our presence with social networking,” said Hardwick. “Social networking companies are going to be a really big part of [the campaign].”

Howes said the campaign would take a page from the online playbook of Barack Obama’s primary run, which has tried to empower people to create content and organize local events. In 2007, the Alliance conducted a consumer generated media contest with another Al Gore project, Current TV. Visitors to Current.com were invited to create and upload ads addressing the climate crisis. The “:60 Seconds to Save the Earth” challenge received 530 eligible submissions. The winning entry, “Sky is Falling,” has aired on Current and is being used to support the Alliance campaign.

yahoo wecansolve it.jpg“We’re helping our users who want to share stuff and who want to integrate our presence with social networking,” said Hardwick. “We definitely want to keep people engaged.

Social Marketing Risk

However, the social marketing campaign shows signs of being a little too distributed. Searches on Facebook turn up as many as five different groups and causes with names like “We campaign,” “We Can Solve It” and “Alliance for Climate Protection.” It’s not clear which, if any, of these are run by the Alliance and which were spontaneously created by enthusiasts, or worse, potential spammers who just want to capitalize on awareness of the climate crisis.

For instance, the administrator of the Facebook group “We Can Solve It” sent an e-mail blast to the group’s hundreds of new members last week. The purpose of that message: promoting a completely unrelated group, called “My Data is My Data.” Reached by e-mail and phone, he said, “To be honest and completely transparent, I misused my power.”

According to John Rooks, president of cause-based marketing consultancy Dwell Creative, the well known lack of control implicit in social marketing campaigns is amplified for grassroots environmental campaigns.

“When slightly different messages are coming from a lot of angles, there’s an issue of legitimacy,” said Rooks. “Controlling the schizophrenia is important. Multiple voices in a dialog is really good, but there has to be some overarching [voice].”

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