U.K. Polar Bear Ad 'Shocks' To The Detriment of 'Awe'

Why is nobody else, in the cross section of news coverage that I have seen thus far, up in arms about the visuals employed for the new U.K. Plane Stupid ad; at least as they harken back to one of the darkest days in recent U.S. history? The ad aims to bring attention to the problem of climate change brought about by air travel emissions. The message is important but the execution is flawed.

Obviously its shocking visuals of polar bears falling from the sky and to the ground with sickening, bloody thuds as the roar of an airliner is heard overhead are meant to do just that—shock and disturb. Even the ad agency behind the movie theater ads, Rattlingstick, describes the ads on their Web site as “shocking,” as they jockey, no doubt, for future industry awards consideration.

The ad is causing debate among news outlets throughout the world so, from the standpoint of massive exposure and standing out amid the clutter with a message that is now “front and center,” mission accomplished.

What I take issue with is the setting and format of the ad, which shows scores of polar bears—at first tiny dots against the backdrop of skyscrapers in a large urban setting—falling from thousands of feet to a soundtrack of airline jet engines. When I viewed the ad for the first time my mind immediately raced back to the horrifying images of 911 and individuals jumping to their deaths from the World Trade Center Buildings. That indelibly etched reality makes this ad, I feel, insensitive and inappropriate. 

And so these doomed (at least in the ad) Arctic animals will enter the continuing and time-worn debate that encompasses aspects of creative expression—from music to artwork to advertising—”shock and awe” or “thoughtful and compelling”? Both have their place, strong points and weaknesses. Here, I would argue, the “shock” is over  the top, acting instead to muddy the message and usurp any call to action its creators intended.