« Back to Home Page

Sign up for the 3p daily dispatch:

Can Conan O’Brien Convince Californians to Save Water?

Alexis Petru
| Thursday August 14th, 2014 | 1 Comment
California's State Capitol lets its law go brown to raise awareness about water conservation during the state's drought.

California’s state capitol lets its law go brown to raise awareness about water conservation during the state’s drought.

California’s historic drought is no laughing matter. But the state of California and the Natural Resources Defense Council are trying to inject some humor into their efforts to encourage Californians to conserve water, teaming up with Conan O’Brien and Andy Richter on a series of public service announcement (PSA) videos that feature water-saving tips.

Part of California’s “Save Our Water” drought awareness campaign, the new PSAs cover topics from car washing (you can save 60 gallons of water by taking your car to a carwash rather than washing it by hand – and you can bathe your kids there, too, Richter points out) to pool covers (swimming pools evaporate up to 40,000 gallons of water a year; even if you don’t have a pool, you can buy a pool cover to impress people and make them think you have one, the funnymen say).

The comedians even poke fun at the idea that saving water takes too much work; there are many “lazy” ways to conserve water, they say: running dishes through a dishwasher instead of washing them yourself, using a carwash rather than hand-washing your car and their more tongue-in-cheek suggestion of skipping showers.

2013 was the driest year on record in many parts of California, leading Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency in January. In addition to directing state agencies to expedite farmers’ access to water, safeguard drinking water and prepare for an extreme fire season, Brown also called on his fellow Californians to reduce their water use by 20 percent. The “Save Our Water” campaign, a partnership between the Association of California Water Agencies and the California Department of Water Resources, aims to meet the governor’s target, promoting simple water-conserving tips through lawn signs, social media campaigns, billboards and radio ads.

The partnership with O’Brien and Richter isn’t the first time that the “Save Our Water” project has recruited celebrities or come up with creative marketing campaigns: It has already featured PSAs from Lady Gaga and Sammy Hagar and included the clever “Brown is the New Green” slogan to urge Californians to let their lawns go brown by watering only twice a month.

California’s education campaign may be light-hearted and silly, but the Golden State is starting to get serious about restricting water use. Most communities across the state have been relying on voluntary water restrictions to motivate residents to do their part during the record-breaking drought. But in mid-July, the State Water Resources Control Board adopted regulations that allow municipalities to impose fines of up to $500 a day for water-wasting activities such as runoff from outdoor sprinklers and hosing down driveways and sidewalks.

Will O’Brien and Richter’s comedic PSAs help the convince Californians to cut their water use by 20 percent? The results of celebrity social and environmental awareness campaigns have historically been mixed – from “We Are The World” and Farm Aid to the campaign to end genocide in Darfur. Whether or not “Team Coco” can lend its star power to the cause of water conservation, social marketing studies have shown that positive campaigns like this one, highlighting simple ways individuals can make a difference, are much more effective than negative ones that focus on doom and gloom. While the water-conservation jokes may not be as funny as O’Brien and Richter’s standard material, these PSAs are certainly more upbeat than Keep America Beautiful’s iconic “crying Indian” commercial from the ‘70s and don’t reprimand individuals for eco-unfriendly lifestyles, like the Californians publicly “drought shaming” their water-wasting neighbors on Twitter.

Image credit: Flickr/Kevin Cortopassi

Passionate about both writing and sustainability, Alexis Petru is freelance journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area whose work has appeared on Earth911, Huffington Post and Patch.com. Prior to working as a writer, she coordinated environmental programs for Bay Area cities and counties. Connect with Alexis on Twitter at @alexispetru

▼▼▼      1 Comment     ▼▼▼

Newsletter Signup
  • Gene Beley

    What did they have to pay Conan O’Brien and Richter? Are the taxpayers on the hook for this expense? I bet O’Brien and Richter are the ones laughing all the way to the bank.