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Much more than fun and games: the “Save Tropical House” campaign in Norway

This campaign piggybacked on a trendy new music genre and used gamification to raise rainforest awareness among young Norwegians.

This is a guest post by Marte Lid, senior adviser for the Department of Communications at The Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad).

Norway is heavily engaged in saving the world’s rainforests, but few young Norwegians knew about their government’s efforts. In 2017, Norad teamed up with PR agency Gambit HK Strategies to engage with this hard-to-reach target audience. Rainforests are far away from home, so we chose a centrepiece of youth culture to help shorten the distance: music.

At the time, Norwegian artists Kygo and Matoma were leading the international dance charts with their signature “tropical house” music. With the help of two comedians, Odd-Magnus Williamson and Henrik Thodesen, we created the fictional tropical house duo “R.E.D.D.”. In their skits, the duo claimed to be terrified about the loss of tropical rainforests: after all, without “tropical”, their beloved music “would just be house.”

We then used gamification to engage our target audience. R.E.D.D. wrote an incomplete song called “Save Tropical House”. On our mobile-first website, we then invited audiences to help complete the song using prefabricated song elements. To unlock these elements, we obliged participants to correctly answer questions about rainforests. We ran a competition for the best resulting song, and the winning song was published on Spotify, where it reached the fourth place on the national Viral top 50 chart.

Puns and humour were a hallmark of the campaign. The music duo’s name, REDD, also stands for “Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation”. Their lyrics include nonsensical tropical places and rhymes like “Begging on my knees / don’t cut down the trees”.

The “Save Tropical House” campaign is one of many efforts of Norad to promote the SDGs within Norway. In 2016, for example, we launched a series of “enlightenment trails” to the top of Norwegian mountains, banking on Norwegian’s love for hiking. From 2016 to 2017, SDG awareness among Norwegians grew from 35 to 50 percent.

An important part of Norad’s success is the use of big data to identify and segment audiences. In the case of “Save Tropical House”, for example, we used data on music tastes, gaming habits and DJ-ing aspirations to help target our campaign to a well-defined and fairly homogenous audience. The downsides of using this kind of data include its relatively high cost, and there is a risk that micro-targeting will dissolve messages for more general audiences. However, provided these risks and privacy issues are kept in mind, audience segmentation through big data can be a powerful tool.

In its 2016 report on the SDGs, the Norwegian government emphasises the need to get young people on board to reach the SDGs. As important change makers and the future inhabitants of our planet, young people are the main target group of the SDGs. The SDGs addressed by “Save Tropical House” – goal 13 (climate action) and goal 15 (life on land) – are the main priorities of the Norwegian government. To reach these goals, maverick approaches are the way to go.

Our campaign reached 1 out of 6 people in the target group of 15-to-26 year olds, and they spent an average of 5 minutes on the game website. 125,000 people have watched the music video on YouTube , and, across platforms, there were a total of 1,3 million streams.

“Save Tropical House” proves that parodying both cultural phenomena and platitudes of climate activism is not necessarily cynical, but can be helpful to the cause if it fits the targeted demographic. If the SDGs lose some of their austerity, we can gain ourselves many new supporters.

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