THE BLOG
12/12/2013 09:33 GMT | Updated 11/02/2014 05:59 GMT

The Nature Dollar

It's always nice to get a good review. Here at my production company Green Lions, we have just spent three years of our lives on a film, PROJECT WILD THING and it is gratifying to find out that people enjoyed it.

Last week I noticed a new review of PROJECT WILD THING on the website of JWT Intelligence, the research wing of a large marketing company. For JWT, the film and campaign are leading a growing trend in society for what they call 'nature-as-antidote' (one of the 100 'things to watch' in JWT Intelligence's 2013 and Beyond report). In an increasingly urbanised world, people are looking for ways to reconnect with nature. Nature is the antidote to modern life.

Fine, you might say. It's true - and 'nature-as-antidote' is part of what the film is about. So why do I feel sceptical? According to their website, JWT Intelligence exists to 'identify emerging opportunities so they can be leveraged for business gain'.

So for these guys, people's desire to get back to nature is an interesting trend; a trend that can be exploited to sell more products. This isn't nature-as-antidote, it is nature-as-antidote-for-profit.

It conveniently ignores a core argument of PROJECT WILD THING: that brands - particularly those like Apple or Samsung with non-natural products to sell - should stop appealing to people's need for nature in order to shift product. Or at least should recognise that they are co-opting our love of nature for business gain - and should make amends (perhaps by supporting THE WILD NETWORK).

You hypocrite, you might say. Isn't PROJECT WILD THING an attempt to use nature to sell a campaign? As the Marketing Director for Nature I shouldn't have a leg to stand on.

But my approach was not to appeal to people's need for nature in order to sell plastic toys or computers. I was marketing the outdoors as an end in itself.

We filmed a class of teenage girls in South London. I brought along my suitcase to show them. Inside is an idyllic model of a countryside scene: fuzzy green grass, gurgling stream and a blue sky above.

One of the girls pointed at the suitcase. She wasn't impressed. 'Outdoors doesn't look like that', she moaned. 'I don't see nothing like that unless I'm watching a movie. You sit there and think, why can't London be like that.'

Nature for these girls was the woods they see in Disney films and the golden fields in adverts for breakfast cereals. Set against fantasy, sterile nature-spaces like these, the local parks can't compete.

Adverts offer aspiration. They use natural landscapes or imagery to sell products that are far from natural. They present a vision of nature that leaves us dissatisfied when we venture out into the park. Not everyone can get to the mountain or run through golden fields, but we can just about get by on marketers' presentation of nature. This isn't nature-as-antidote; it's nature as diazepam.

Other adverts actively encourage kids to turn away from nature. In a recent US Toys R Us advert a group of kids are taken on a school trip to the woods. An actor playing a forest ranger asks the bored schoolchildren to identify leaves. Suddenly he rips off his ranger outfit. Underneath is a Toys R Us uniform. 'We're not going to the forest today; we're going to Toys R Us and you're going to choose any toy you want'. The kids go crazy. They run off the bus and into the brightly-lit dream world of the Toys R Us store.

The advert is manipulative. It uses a group of disadvantaged kids for commercial gain, and encourages children to think materialistically (as George Monbiot argues). And it is offensive, because it is wrong. Most children would love to spend a day in the woods. Filming Project Wild Thing we went tree-climbing with a group of children in Tottenham - some had never been before. They loved it.

Thankfully someone has spoofed the advert.

Nature is so much bigger, more complex and infinitely more fun than any product that can be sold in a 30 second advert. Any advert, even a film like mine, that uses nature does it a disservice. You can't represent the full glory of nature on a screen. And the ad men don't care about getting people outdoors. To misquote the late American comic Bill Hicks, they're only after the 'nature dollar'.

If you would like to give THE WILD NETWORK your nature dollar, buy a copy of PROJECT WILD THING on DVD. Find out more here.