“Have kids lost their imagination?” A voice softly intones as an editorial-ready line-up of children clutching video game devices and smartphones pans across the screen. “We set off to find out.”

The new video advertisement from the Ad Council and the US Forest Service begins on a somewhat menacing note (why “set off” to find out if children have lost their imagination? Sounds a little grim and Captain Hook-ish…) but is nevertheless intriguing. How are “we” going to locate the lost imaginations of our nation’s youth? As the next few scenes make clear, gaming and personal technology use is somehow culpable for the imaginative kidnapping. We see scenes of a few children, helplessly crumpled in school bus seats, melting into the glow of their personal screens.

But, hark, some hope! We learn these hapless techno-zombies have been asked to test out the latest in virtual technology, replete with Oculus Rift-style headsets. The new video game, “The Forest” comes with “surround sound.” We watch as the children walk around a wooded path and are amazed by the immersive environment and realistic graphics.

“We tricked a bunch of kids into putting down their video games by telling them that they’d be testing an even better video game,” says agency creative director Jill Applebaum in AdWeek. “When we finally revealed that the forest itself was the game, they weren’t the least bit disappointed.”

Aside from the missed opportunity to claim “…we finally revealed the forest for the trees,” there’s a lot to this statement. There’s the moral dimension brought up by the admission of lying to children, if you even believe children would actually fall for such a stunt. As one astute AdWeek commenter pointed out:

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There’s the ironic dimension of using a digital video ad, which uses a fake video game, to try and get kids into nature. But however you look at it, one thing is for sure: it’s a pretty effective campaign.

The video itself is just a semi-controversial point of entry for getting us, right now, to talk about the role of technology in children’s lives and how families can reconnect with nature. The campaign, “Discover the Forest” is backed by a robust social media campaign anchored by the hashtag #Naturehoods that encourages dialogue and interactivity. Check out the website http://www.discovertheforest.org/ and notice how everything from the font, to the Twitter and Facebook feeds so well integrated on the site, serve to highlight the wonders of the forest.

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What’s more, each social media platform has it’s own distinct personality. As we’ve discussed on the blog before, it’s so important to use each platform to the best of its ability. For example, the Discover the Forest Twitter account is run by Cheecker, the squirrel, who comments on forest memes, offers suggestions for family outings, and posts photos and quotes about US National Parks. The account has more than 10,000 followers and more than 5,000 tweets, proving their diligence in posting and building a follower base. The more humorous, personalized approach to Twitter gives the campaign a benign, relatable feature that wouldn’t otherwise make sense on Instagram or Facebook. It’s a genius move that humanizes (animalizes?) the campaign and transforms it from an abstract initiative to a story with a face and an actor (good ol’ Cheecker).

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We’ll leave the moral judgements to you and the Court of Internet Comments to decide. But we can assess what aspects led to such a successful campaign:

  1. Strong emotional engagement right out of the gate: whether you agree with it or not, the statement “we tricked children…” would make the majority of us go “huh?!” and want to click immediately.
  2. Easily shareable content that encourages conversation: the video comments alone prove that people felt so strongly about the video they were willing to take a few moments to make their opinion heard (editor’s note: as with public radio callers, know that most commenters are going to be motivated by complaints. An “oh, that’s nice” reaction won’t garner as many comments as a “well, I never!” reaction. See point 1 above).
  3. Robust social media backup: the #Naturehoods hashtag is backed by a quirky, personable, and frequently updated Twitter account. The Discover the Forest Instagram account is a beautiful array of professional and user-submitted nature photos. The Facebook page (with more than 130,000 likes) is more thorough, with videos, discussions, longer articles and statements.

A trip to the woods, anyone?

 

 

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