Answers for Adam: Is reality TV the way to tackle climate change?


Recently there was another report from the scientists of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) telling us that climate change (what used to be called global warming) is upon us and there are real changes happening now (I bet I’ve lost several readers already!)

The scientists are urging us to heed their warning and change our behaviours, yet we ignoring them in droves. Even though information they are giving us is dire.

The issue is that ‘information’ has rarely been a good behavioural change instrument for the masses. We’ve just lived through the ‘information age’, a time where all of the world’s information was organised for us and made available to all of our fingertips. How many of the world’s problems did all of this easily accessible information solve?

However, there is one brilliant answer staring us in the face.  In fact it’s without doubt the best changer of mass behaviour we have, and it’s called ‘Reality TV’.

Reality TV has made many Australians

  • Lose weight, particularly in one country town (The Biggest Loser)
  • move to the beat more (So You Think You Can Dance)
  • Increase their time volunteering to keep the beaches safe (Bondi Rescue)
  • Cook better (Master Chef)
  • …and be better handy people (The Block)

As a behaviour change tool it cannot be questioned, because of how it works.

  • The information gets across. Reality TV entertains first and informs second.  (get the message)
  • It creates social norms. Reality TV shows are a great way of increasing motivation for a particular activity as they make something feel like it’s already popular and thereby change the social norms. People like to conform so if they think others are already doing something, they’ll do it too.
  • Models the desired behaviour. Ever wanted to cook a croque en bouche? Watch how assessable ‘models’ do it
  • Get’s people involved: Once you watch a 13 part show on (say gardening) you’ll more likely want to get involved in the activity yourself.
  • It gamifies the learnings: We are watching people win and lose – it’s fun.

So dear climate change scientists (and anyone else with a positive cause) don’t try and change behaviour with information – create a reality TV show instead.  Unfortunately, there is a saying in TV that states ‘green doesn’t rate’, and this is largely because they have been treated as overly worthy, or blandly in the past.

No one has sensationalised and popularised environmental issues as only reality TV can.  There you go Simon Cowell, here’s your new big challenge. You got the world singing, now get us all to take positive action to save our wonderful planet.

I raised this issue with The One Percenters, TripleM’s national drive show.  Scott Cam was good enough to do a promo based on the concept here’s what positive action reality TV style could sound like.

My question is can reality TV save the world, or are we destined to watch lazy bogans lie around the house and vacuous ‘housewives’ bitch about one another forever?

Adam Ferrier is CSO / Partner at independent creative and media agency, Cummins&Partners. Twitter @adamferrier


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