Greta's 'Our house is on fire' challenges our reactions by disrupting our learned expectations

Greta's 'Our house is on fire' challenges our reactions by disrupting our learned expectations

The Background

Fridays for Future launched a visceral advert "Our house is on fire" to coincide with Earth Day on April 22, an annual event to demonstrate support for environmental protection.

Fridays For Future (FFF), an environmental activist group founded by Greta Thunberg, has a goal to put moral pressure on policymakers to take forceful action to decarbonise the global economy.

FFF used this year's Earth Day as an opportunity to re-emphasise the global environmental crisis as a priority we shouldn’t overlook.

What They Did

The ad is based on Thunberg's famous speech given at the World Economic Forum's Annual Meeting in 2019 where she says:" I want you to act as if our house is on fire, because it is."

Too often when environmental concerns are communicated, it's usually in abstract terms that don't make sense or create any urgency. 

So by taking inspiration from Thunberg's statement, the ad tries to provoke a reaction by making the global environmental crisis a personal problem.

The Review

The ad is clever.

I love the use of cognitive dissonance through visual and sound mechanics to really capture attention. 

The directing and narrative of the ad contradicts the reactions we expect to see towards fire, which makes viewers look twice to see what's going on.

Cognitive dissonance is when we experience something that contrasts with what we've learned through lived experiences, instinctive reactions and cultural customs. 

This advert, whether intentionally or not, disrupts our learned expectations with visuals and sounds that juxtaposes our world view, which really makes the ad cut through.

During a fire, you expect to see panic and fear. 

But the ad causes conflict between what you expect to see, to what is actually happening.

The Visual

The visual cues of brushing teeth, eating a nutritious breakfast, packing a healthy lunch box, and loving family interactions all work to paint a typical family morning. 

The regular family behaviour during their morning routine completely contradicts our expected reaction to a fire. 

This juxtaposition makes the viewer want a reaction from the characters.

The Sound

The alarm clock, the birds chirping, the curtains swooshing, the laughter, the chopping of vegetables, the pouring of juice and the conversations about school tests and coming home late from work, builds a world of happiness and ambition. 

But the undertone of the blazing fire, although secondary to the lived life sounds, cuts through because it doesn't fit into the story that's being composed.

Visual and sonic contradictions force our brain to work overtime because we need to work harder to decipher what's going on. This makes us switch from System 1 thinking (instinctive and fact) to System 2 thinking (considered and slow), which makes our brain fire up harder to make sense of it all; and helps the ad stand out and stick.

In Hindsight

This advert is creatively effective.

With an ambition to get a reaction to the environmental crisis, the ad forces a psychological response that makes you take notice and internalise the bigger problem FFF are communicating.

I would love to see how this idea extends beyond advertising. 

This could easily roll out in multiple activations across social and PR, so I would love to see if or how FFF extend the idea further. 

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