Values need Context: #LestWeForget

A Comment on Christmas TV Adverts and a lesson for NGOs.

Monty the Penguin - the John Lewis Christmas Ad arrives with rueful knowing.

Monty the Penguin – the John Lewis Christmas Ad arrives with rueful knowing.

After watching Monty the Penguin, I felt a little teary; after watching Sainsbury’s World War I Truce ad – I felt a little nauseous.
Both appeal to socially responsible values, endearing us to a world of friendship and love; but context is key.

Values
Yesterday, I attended a workshop on the use of “values” in communications.

Conducted in the name of the “Common Cause”, the good folk of PIRC brought to our attention the idea of the intrinsic-extrinsic values map. Using research from social psychologists worldwide, they explained how appealing to certain sets of values is more likely to result in certain behaviours. (The work is fascinating and can be read about in depth on their website here) .

Common Cause Values Map. Find out more at valuesandframes.org

Common Cause Values Map. Find out more at valuesandframes.org

The major take-away message for social do-gooders is that to encourage socially responsible action, communicators need to appeal to related values in their work, e.g. inner harmony, social justice, equality (see green areas in map).

What’s more, it is noteworthy that these “universal and benevolent” values are much more frequently considered important by all sectors of society. So connecting with such value sets in most communications is a good idea, especially if you want to truly engage the viewer and encourage generous behaviour.

And indeed, while us not-for-profit lot were eagerly scribbling away, drinking green tea and talking about moral responsibility, the British retailing big-boys were releasing their TV ads. And as usual, they’re ahead of the game. Yet the results are unsettling.

Penguins vs The Trenches
If you watch the Christmas TV ads from either Waitrose, John Lewis or Sainsbury’s you will see that all of them feed into the idea of love, friendship and belonging. They’re activating those universal values, as even FOR-profit organizations realise that activating these values is more powerful than those associated with individualism.

But while some adverts can be considered successful, others seem to be in terrible taste – highlighting the importance of context.

#Monty the Penguin is an all-time favourite. Watching little boy Sam tenderly care for his best friend, a viewer can’t help but engage all those intrinsic values related to universalism and benevolence(see map above) – for example, loyalty, equality, love, friendship, unity with nature, broadmindedness, a world of beauty. The end message of the advert is that the boy’s faithful and unfailing love of his penguin is mirrored by YOUR love of your own children – a love that can be demonstrated by purchasing a nice present from John Lewis.

Nothing too offensive in that – and indeed, something we can all rationally choose against if we so wish.

Sainsbury's WWI Truce Advert. Appropriate?

Sainsbury’s WWI Truce Advert. Appropriate?

The Sainsbury’s advert is, on first comparison, a similar, if not more powerful, emotional roller-coaster. Depicting a fairytale vision of the front line, this exquisite short film tells the true story of human connection breaking the barriers of war on Christmas Day in 2014. Compassion and love triumph barbed wire and bombs. Those lovely intrinsic values of universalism and benevolence are activated once more in the on-looker at home. Moreover, wider group values relating to national security and social order. The end result is a feel-good montage of “BEING PART OF SOMETHING BIGGER” – a message which chimes with Sainsbury’s family focused Christmas campaign last year.

But while I’m a fan of both Monty the Penguin and Sainsbury’s Family advert (I watched the full 60 min montage a NUMBER of times over), this WW1 Truce leaves me reeling.

The reason  = context.
Sainsbury’s, John Lewis and the rest of the corporate gang are clever. Very, very clever in getting ahead on communications territory which by rights, should be the preserve of those trying to serve the public good. They understand that:

  • 1) Viewers want to be told a story.
  • 2) We want to feel that other people feel what we feel (similar values).
  • 3) We want to become the people we want to be by following a certain action (e.g. buying a present, shopping in a certain store).

Yet, despite their canny knowing, they don’t seem to have grasped the idea of social sensibility.

Using the events of World War One is frankly sinister. Sure, there’s some reference to a charitable chocolate bar – and yep, they’ve worked in partnership with the Royal British Legion. And don’t get me wrong – I certainly think that this is a beautiful piece of film about WW1 which if used for the purposes of the Royal British Legion alone would have been glorious.

Royal Lancashire Fusiliers treating a wounded comrade in the Somme during the summer of 1916 during the First World War (c) Nigel Blundell.

Royal Lancashire Fusiliers treating a wounded comrade in the Somme, 1916 (c) Nigel Blundell.

However, is it not cynical to use the deaths of 100,000s of people, fighting for democracy, to sell turkeys? This of course, let’s not forget,  is ultimately the aim of this advert. If you asked those men that died how they’d feel about their story being used for the supermarket retailer to buoy flagging sales – I’m not sure what they’d say.

The result is a tangible feeling of disconnection on viewing the advert.

It should of course be noted that the vast majority of people commenting on message boards, Twitter, Youtube and Facebook, have had v. many positive things to say about Sainsbury’s. But I’m not sure that they’re aware of the reality of Sainsbury’s aims in creating this advert. They want to increase the shareholder value of Sainsbury’s. The Royal British Legion is a secondary CSR detail.

Lesson for Not-for-Profits?
Values are important. Storytelling is important. Having viable actions for viewers to follow up on is important. But so is the frame within which you’re communicating your message.

Us not-for-profits have a long way to go. And we need to learn more quickly, and implement more expediently. But let’s try to remember the lessons of our corporate route-masters. These guys have got they’re first, they’ve created amazing pieces of artful communication, with more panache and style than many of us. Much of their success is due to healthier budgets, but some is due to professionalism.

But as this proves, corporates haven’t  retained the moral high ground. They’ve been scrabbling for it, as the recent retailers’ “War on Values’ was declared, with Sainsburys & Tescos scrapping about bananas. Sainsbury’s CEO Mike Coupe even went onto do a little piece about the “value of values”.  But there’s nothing substantive for them to talk about. The truth is that their values can be found on a spreadsheet in numerical form, where as civil society’s are held within our collective sense of right and wrong.

Let’s capitalise on that and let’s move ahead – using values and frames to make an unashamed moral difference.

“Coal. Guns. Freedom”: Facts Fail Climate Comms

Bored.

Facts alone are failing in the war on climate change communication. Instead, to truly engage, we need to share experience. Without the privilege of person-person contact, this can still be achieved remotely by inspiring others through art, to create their own experiences.

Understanding arising from experience is far more powerful than factual knowledge alone. This has been known for aeons and yet we are still failing to connect people to their environment in a way that persuades them to protect, rather than destroy, something that they are part of.

The Problem

Yesterday’s US mid-term elections are a prime example of the conservation movement’s failure “to move” the voter. To quote Brad Plumber at Vox:

Republican Mitch McConnell's re-election slogan. And it worked...

Republican Mitch McConnell’s re-election slogan. And it worked…

You had billionaire Tom Steyer spending $67 million trying to convince voters to care about global warming. You had the League of Conservation Voters pouring in another $25 million, more than in the previous two elections combined. All the while, some outlets were suggesting that recent natural disasters — from Hurricane Sandy two years ago to the ongoing drought in the West — just might push climate issues to the fore”.

Yet despite these efforts – based on pushing facts and reason – Republicans won control of the Senate by a ‘slam dunk’. The now Republican Majority leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell, was re-elected on the back of the campaign motto “Coal. Guns. Freedom”. Recent polls show that only 36% of Republicans consider the environment an important issues, compared to 69% Democrats.

This is just days after Europe’s leaders compromised heavily on Climate Targets for 2030. While Angela Merkel was pushing for higher energy efficiency and emissions reduction targets, eastern European countries and the UK negotiated downwards. (See end results here).  The eastern countries’ unfounded fear of limiting potential economic growth is understandable, but the UK’s goading by UKIP is not. The fact that the UK government is being pushed around by a minority party on the right, who has less democratic representation than any party (including the Greens) on the left, shows a failure of imagination in communication. Arguably, this is the failure of everyone who believes in more social equality – but the environmental lobby can’t escape unscathed.

Bored Board by NaBHaN

Bored Board by NaBHaN

The facts that we’re pushing just aren’t being taken on board by a bored audience.

The Answer
Help is at hand from ancient wisdom – wisdom stretching from China dating over two millennia ago, to the surprising sagacity of Hollywood today:

  • “What I hear, I forget. What I see, I remember. What I do, I understand.”
    Xunzi, Chinese Confucian Philosopher, 340-245 BC.
  • The only kind of learning which significantly influences behavior is self-discovered or self-appropriated learning – truth that has been assimilated in experience. – Carl Rogers, American Psychologist, 1902-1987 AD.
  • Fictional Psychologist Sean Maguire, Good Will Hunting, 1998.

But how to share experience?

marietaoslanec.com

marietaoslanec.com

Unfortunately, environmentalists can’t physically connect everyone to their outside world. We can’t stage other peoples’ journeys of discovery, helping them realise how our interconnected nature means that their actions are affect all of life, and how they can positively affect others by making some different choices.

We don’t have enough time, power, nor moral right, to directly force everyone to this understanding directly.

Tannenwald

I know where I’d like to be! Tannenwald (c) Gustav Klimt

But as human beings, we do have the unique ability to inspire. While a small number of species outside H. Sapiens may demonstrate culture, none have been able to express themselves as complexly as we have. Art, in all its forms is an expression of humanity and helps individuals share experiences through a remote medium.


While we seem to be unique in our ability to destroy, the human race is unique in its ability to create and imagine.

My argument is that environmental communicators now need to harness this power. Artists have always been inspired by nature, as have scientists. We now need to bring these two groups together to inspire others in the truth that surrounds them.

Image

The Great Drama Above.

Exciting things going on above our heads as we bustle on below.

C’mon Nige. Join the Love In.

An age old message for Nige.

An age old message for Nige.

The Panacea of the TV Box Set

Panacea of the TV Box Set. #GameofThrones anyone?

Panacea of the TV Box Set. #GameofThrones anyone?

Severed Limbs & Mangled Faces: Culpability & Compassion

Torso in Metal from 'The Rock Drill' 1913-14 by Sir Jacob Epstein 1880-1959What does Epstein’s Rock Drill – a sculpture from the First World War – tell us about today’s problems?

Could compassion be the answer?

It may sound airy fairy – preachy – perhaps even simplistic to suggest that global issues could be solved by more understanding and kindness.

But it’s an honest question. And one that I don’t think comes with an easy answer.

The 21st century’s problems are wide-ranging. Yet, whilst varied – from uncaring NHS staff, to environmental injustices (see EJOLT for list), to gay intolerance to the global poverty that kills 18 million people every year – they seem characterised by  a  lack of compassion.

On visiting “The Great War in Portraits” exhibition at the National Portrait gallery at the weekend- visitors were exposed to visual representation of the depths of barbarism humanity can plunge to in order to kill one another. Such depths were described as a signal in a change of human nature; a loss of compassion.

Perhaps the two most striking exhibits for me were:

1) The Rock Drill, a bronze  sculpture by Sir Jacob Epstein, originally created in 1913, to echo man’s increasing interest in machines and power. But in 1916, it was remodelled. Limbs were severed and the sculpture altered, thought to reflect Epstein‘s altered perception about the future of humanity – mutilated by loss and destruction. 

2) The second, of which I can’t find a picture, was the before-and-after drawings of patients undergoing re-constructive facial surgery, following extensive war injuries.

So did the “Great War” and wars since kill more than just bodies? Do we need to go looking for compassion once again?

To emphasise – I certainly don’t want to be moralistic about all this.

After all, I know that I’m more culpable in this loss of compassion compared to the vast majority of the world’s population.

To quote from Thomas Pogge (ref below):

Many more people – some 360 million – have died from hunger and remediable diseases in peacetime in the 20 years since the end of the Cold War, than perished from wars, civil wars and government repression over the entire twentieth century. And poverty continues unabated, as the official statistics confirm…[and so on]”

I know this. And as one of the richest people on earth if I gave away more of my income, I could help this. Yet I only give so much. An embarrassingly small fraction considering my culpability in not solving the problem.

So from this I take, that compassion may well be the solution.

But compassion doesn’t seem too easy.

1. Thomas Pogge – “Politics as Usual – What lies behind the pro-poor rhetoric

Sustainability: the story of kindness?

ceiling of la sagrada familiaFor me, sustainability is about compassion.

I went to Barcelona this weekend for the first time. I saw Gaudi and Picasso and was completely and utterly blown away. Brain fuzz.

Each artist’s strength lay in the radically new perspective they brought to their work.  Although they saw the same things as everyone else, they explored their focus from previously untold angles. La Sagrada Familia embodies this radical approach – de-constructing and rebuilding the idea of a catholic cathedral so profoundly different to that found across the rest of Europe.

And so my thoughts (as always) returned to sustainability.

The story of kindness, of compassion, is one which – although I’m sure is familiar to many others – for me, has only recently connected to sustainability.  I want to use this story to give a new perspective on working towards a greener, fairer world, and indeed, how we communicate about that ambition.

I think we care about creating a sustainable world because we care about one another.

Of course, “sustainability” embodies a whole host of concepts, from carbon permits to biodiversity offsetting to closed loop recycling. Money, reputation and politics make an inevitable appearance also.

But at the heart of the matter lies kindness; caring for one another – for our families, our children, our society. For our grandchildren and great-grandchildren as yet unborn, and for everyone who we share this moment of existence with.

So compassion can be seen as the driver.

Moreover, it’s also the facilitator. No one can create sustainable change alone – we need to collaborate. And this process requires us working to understand and be understanding with a whole host of people, many coming from perspectives and vested interests we may find challenging.

Only compassion can make this happen.

I don’t think these are just airy fairy words. Check out the great work from Common Cause on intrinsic values, the Dalai Lama’s words on environmentalism, Tom Shadyac’s documentary “I am”, or the International Campaign for Compassionate Cities.

Sustainability both demonstrates and requires compassion. What’s more, perhaps compassion provides a greater setting for the tale of environmentalism than offsets and permits?

Gaudi orchestrated such beauty through connecting the ideas of  creativity, nature and morality. We need to explore every avenue we can in creating a world that works for us all. Why not start with kindness?