This weekend, the feature-length documentary film Project Wild Thing opens in independent cinemas in the UK.
The film explores the increasing disconnection between British children and the natural world around them; kids’ roaming distance from their homes has reportedly decreased 90% in the past 30 years.
First up, director David Bond appoints himself as the Marketing Director for Nature in the belief that the commercialisation of childhood and play has made it increasingly difficult for nature to get a look in. Powerful brands with shiny products and big advertising are one part of the issue mix contributing to kids spending less time outdoors.
But he also believes that with the support of branding and marketing, nature could once again be a popular 'free product' for kids — a recognition that we can use the tools of the trade to help reposition and repackage nature to once again make it exciting and desirable in kids’ (and adults’) lives, that we can make brands part of the solution, not just part of the problem.
Secondly, there is the big and frankly terrifying question about what might happen if a generation becomes completely disconnected from the natural world. As brand folk passionate about new ideas that can help kickstart a more meaningful, sustainable future, what are the implications of a generation who may have little connection with the natural world?
As Stephen Jay Gould said, “We will not fight to save what we do not love.”
Thirdly, for those of us at Swarm — practitioners who operate where the creative brand and commercial world meets change, sustainability and social innovation — the journey has been fascinating, a mission that still produces more questions than answers. As co-producers of the film and the strategic and creative hub of the newly hatched Wild Network, which has been set up to tackle the issues raised in the film, we are witnessing the good and the dark side of brands and marketing.
The Project Wild Thing community is thriving, with about 5,000 active supporters as we approach the film launch. The Wild Network is currently growing fast with nearly 500 organisations signed up to support the mission, big and small.
So we've been keen to try and find a major commercial organisation to join the founding group — an organisation that believes strongly in the need for the outdoors and nature in kids’ lives, one that is willing to join us to not just spread awareness of the issues, but to use its intelligence, networks, resources, assets and staff to help find solutions. To really make an impact: brand innovation, 21st-century style.
While we of course expect a commercial agenda to exist alongside a social and sustainable mission, we've been surprised by how dominant and often blinkered the commercial motive remains. In the last month we've learnt that 'nature tested too niche in focus groups' and that we are at a disadvantage with other partnership options because in nature there's nowhere to stock product.
Our learnings show us that this is a problem that almost every parent, guardian and adult connects with when they see the film, and most are seeking help and support in finding solutions and ways forward — a real brand marketing opportunity to make a difference.
So what does this mean for a “sustainable brand”?
Firstly, we see a sustainable brand as one that opens itself and its products up to its customers and commits to an honest journey of making its itself fit for purpose in a resource-constrained world of more than seven billion people.
But we also see a sustainable brand as one that recognises the fragility and uncertainty of the world we live in and is willing to use its intelligence, assets, innovation and skills to help solve things that its customers care about. It builds its brand and customer relationships and communicates its purpose through the challenges and issues it engages with and tries to help solve.
As such, how many can truly call themselves “sustainable brands”?
The film is released in UK cinemas this weekend, and then on VOD before international releases next year. Go see it if you can.