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PR Stunt Watch: Winnie the Pooh, toilet paper and not giving a crap

Take something heart-warming, wholesome, much loved and nostalgic. And then f*ck with it. Forgive the expletive, but certainly where I come from that’s the technical term. It’s a creative technique that, when executed properly, is a smart disruptive route to create emotional impact.

Which brings us neatly onto my favourite campaign from the past couple of weeks by American eco-toilet roll brand Who Gives A Crap? Did you know 1 million trees are felled every day to make toilet roll? I didn’t but I do now thanks to this neat campaign which brought the statistic to life by blending a childhood favourite with a natural dystopia.

To highlight the environmental impact of what would happen if ‘the traditional toilet roll paper industry’ came to one of the most famous areas of woodland in the world: One Hundred Acre Wood, home of Winnie the Pooh.

The result is Winnie-the-Pooh: The Deforested Edition. A place associated with joy kinship, community and natural beauty, the home to Pooh, Piglet and Christopher Robin decimated with jarring illustrations.

Available as a free to download e-book or as a limited edition hardback (sustainable production, of course) the simplicity of the creative means it has travelled far and wide, way beyond the borders of the target market.

It’s jarring because it doesn’t just ‘show the problem’, a trap some creatives fall into. We know what deforestation looks like. Same for air or plastic pollution, war or famine. The reality is we become desensitised to these images. They lose their impact to jar or to elicit an emotional response.

With a constant cycle of negative and distressing news the result is what the documentary maker Adam Curtis calls ‘Oh dearism’. Quite simply, we see something horrific happening on or to our planet, and think ‘Oh dear’ on auto-repeat in a loop of indifference and helplessness.

The ‘take something wholesome, nostalgic and f*ck with it’ approach to see the problem in new ways is a personal favourite. The Prado Museum teamed up with the WWF (some of us 80’s kids still instinctively think of Hulk Hogan at those three letters) to show how climate change could impact and later some of the master pieces in its collection.

One which I really admired for its artfulness - and nods to the Banksy aesthetic – was alternative Christmas cards from the doctors of the world charity which blended traditional nativity scenes with the present war-torn Middle East. The result saw the Three Wise Men pointing to a fighter jet in the sky and Mary and Joseph travelling through a bombed-out city.

Similarly, Ikea Sweden created a physical manifestation of the living conditions of Syrian refugees by placing the dark, cramped, squalid living conditions within the idealised, light and beautiful settings of one of its own stores – forcing shoppers to break from domestic bliss and be confronted with domestic hell.

It’s something I’ve had a go at with myself with the team at Cow to address animal welfare in modern agriculture. How do you reframe an issue that people know goes on, but don’t want to think about when buying meat or dairy? By taking a traditional children’s toy – the farm play set – and reimagining the toy using the conditions of modern, intensive farming to create the Factory Farm Plat Set for World Animal Protection.

So, if you are ever stuck for a provocative cause related campaign response, the trick is don’t just repeat the statistics or show the issue or the problem. That not news. The best you’ll get is an ‘Oh dear’. Think of something warming, positive and much loved and apply the problem to it. Or, in short, f*ck with it.

This week's PR Stunt Watch was written by Mark Perkins, executive creative director at creative comms agency Cow.

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