The blogosphere’s been a-buzz the past few days about Disney’s multi-billion dollar acquisition of Marvel, but there hasn’t been much press about the million dollars in donations they’re planning as part of their “Friends for Change” initiative. In fact, though I hesitate to admit this publicly, if I hadn’t gotten sucked into The Jonas Brothers marathon on the Disney channel over the long weekend, I wouldn’t even have known about it. Granted, I’m not their target audience, but after digging deeper, it’s actually a worthwhile program that makes effective use of popular icons like Miley Cyrus and The Jonas Brothers in making kids and teens aware of the important issues facing our planet in a memorable way.
Doing what they do best, Disney uses entertainment and invites viewers into an informative storyworld of the change that is possible by pledging to do everyday things like shutting off the water when you’re brushing your teeth or buying 100% recycled notebooks.
Built on the premise of friends teaming up to save the planet, the campaign speaks to teens in ways that they can understand, and associates small tasks with the big changes that are possible when done collectively. Their favorite characters ask users to pledge, and encourage them to have their friends pledge, too, reinforcing the power that each person has to change the world just by doing their small part and spreading the word. The program gives each participant goals to work toward, and shares the results of their actions, showing them that their pledges do make a tangible difference.
Their recent climate initiative, asking users to adjust their home thermostats by two degrees, received over 350,000 pledges, saving 38 million pounds of CO2 from polluting the air, which as they communicate in real world terms is “like taking 3,164 cars off the road for a year.”
The program is smart, well orchestrated, and harnesses the power and influence of Hollywood in a positive way. By connecting popular teens to change, they get other teens to pay attention and listen long enough to retain the information. They also give them an opportunity to be a part of something, and involve their friends, making it fun — and I may go so far as to say cool — to be an agent of change. They even “perform” the results, giving teens a compelling reason to listen and stick around to learn about their next task. It’s a chain reaction rooted in viewer affinity that uses the emotional connection to the Disney programs and characters they love to turn pledged changes into deeply ingrained everyday habits.
A big key to saving the planet is teaching the next generation to take the necessary actions to protect our environment and natural resources, and this program brings that education to the foreground by wrapping it in a meaningful context and giving teens a way to integrate changes into their lifestyles. And if Miley Cyrus crooning a poppy tune about the earth while Joe Jonas does his signature hair toss impresses the importance of recycling and preserving water and energy, I’d call that a smash hit.