The verdict in the court of public opinion appears to be a resounding YES. And while we may feel otherwise, we hear you, and that’s what this post is about.
For those of you unfamiliar with the Save the’Bou campaign: yesterday we launched, on behalf of four environmental groups (and in a pro bono capacity) an initiative to raise awareness about legislation passed by the Provincial Government but not enacted. Legislation that would protect important parts of Ontario’s Great Boreal forest (one of the largest intact forests on the planet) and home to the woodland caribou, which also happens to be the animal on the Canadian quarter. Without this important protection, the woodland caribou is in very real danger of vanishing forever. Best guesses give it no more than a handful of years without habitat protection.
This is an issue that the groups running this campaign (The David Suzuki Foundation, Greenpeace, Forest Ethics and Canopy) have been trying to raise public awareness around for years with limited success. In part because there are a million “Save the XXX” campaigns and therefore we all ignore most of them.
Enter our approach. Let me first off state that we carefully weighed the risks/benefits, deciding that it would be worth it for SMG to expend some valuable social capital on behalf of such an important cause. We deliberately crafted an edgy, provocative campaign that we hoped would get people talking and thinking about exactly what they care about and what spurs them to action (since, clearly, “Save the XXX” campaigns with very limited budget have trouble cutting through the noise). We set up a Facebook page and Twitter account that stated that the woodland caribou was in danger of being removed from the Canadian quarter. Then members of our team tweeted and re-tweeted, urging people to our Facebook page where the messages were repeated with additional information about the animals endangered status.
Within three hours, once we had a reasonable amount of attention, we switched our platforms to reveal our core message: that it’s not the caribou on the quarter that could disappear, but the animal itself (we should also point out that we fully disclosed the nature of the campaign to each and every person that questioned it directly). At that time (and only then) we also made available links to the online petition and to the groups supporting the campaign. Finally, we asked people to think – if we had simply launched a “Save the XXX” campaign, would anyone have noticed? Would there have been any conversation at all? Why is it a symbol on a coin garners so much attention – from both media and the public – when the fact that the animal itself is in danger of extinction has caused barely a ripple for years?
Thing was, you didn’t like that we told you something that wasn’t true. We got a lot of flak on the backchannel for the approach, and some pretty negative comments on our blog post revealing the campaign. Admittedly this was from a small number of people, but I think for me the deafening silence from almost everyone else in our networks made the biggest impression.
So I’d like to apologize. I’m sorry if you feel we abused your trust and crossed what seems to be a pretty deep line in the social media sand. While this format of campaign is not uncommon in mass marketing, it clearly is not something that is currently acceptable (no matter how supportive of a good cause or not-for-profit) on the social web.
Finally, rather than leaving the post mortem to a vocal few, we’d like to hear YOUR thoughts on this. Tell us what you think we did right/wrong and whether or not the reaction to this campaign is purist dogma or reality knocking. We’d love to hear your feedback. However, before you go, here is a video of our coverage on this issue you may find very interesting. I strongly encourage you to watch it now.