MTV: Breaking the Addiction

January 2nd, 2013 BY Sarah Nelson | No Comments

On Earth Day, 2006, MTV launched a year-long campaign called ‘Break the Addiction,’ aimed at helping the young people of America to get interested and involved in environmental issues. The campaign is a part of thinkMTV, an online resource that covers a range of issuesfrom climate change to sexual health, to finishing high school and getting into college.

Break the Addiction is a twelve-step process to becoming more eco-friendly. MTV introduced a new step each month over the past year, starting at ‘examine yourself,’ moving through ‘re-energize your space,’ ‘transport better,’ and ‘shop smarter,’ and ending up with ‘celebrate your impact.’ Each step includes suggestions, online resources for more information, and examples of people who have made an impact.

I spoke with Ian Rowe, vice president of public affairs at MTV, about the Break the Addiction campaign.

What inspired MTV to launch this campaign?

The people at MTV wanted to highlight the ways in which young people can have a daily impact in helping the environment. A year ago in America, the environment didn’t rate very high on the list of issues that young people felt were important but then things like hurricane Katrina’s destruction of New Orleans, the war on Iraq, and Al Gore‘s climate change awareness campaign, caught the public eye. People were beginning to be aware of the consequences of climate change, and those at MTV saw the opportunity for a way to connect all of these issues to the environment, and illustrate simple daily steps that can be taken to help. We were able to really connect the dots, and show how all of these issues relate to the environment, said Rowe. MTV had an opportunity to pro-actively engage their audience on these issues.

How did they reach their target audience?

Break the Addiction reached out to young people in a number of ways, using all of the different media platforms available to them. MTV ran several 30-minute shows on environmental issues, including one that featured Al Gore.

Break the Addiction was also incorporated into some of their most popular programming. On Pimp My Ride, the mechanics, with the help of California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, converted a car into one that could run on vegetable oil: an excellent example of how we don’t have to sacrifice performance in the name of fuel efficiency.

To show people how to Feng Shui the eco way, (step #4) MTV ran a show in which a New York apartment got an Earth-friendly make over. They worked with an eco-consultant who demonstrated what you can do to make your living space more eco-friendly. They pointed out what products you can use, like paper products (paper towels, toilet paper) that are organic, chemical free, and/or manufactured using less energy. It turns out that you can take the same products that you’re purchasing every day and replace them with eco-friendly ones, often for the same price or even cheaper. The program effectively showed that making a difference is not that hardit was just a couple of young people re-doing their apartment.

There is also information on the thinkMTV website, which covers larger pro-social issues like education and sexual health. Someone could be attracted to the website looking for other resources, like tips on how to finish their high school education and get into college, and would be led to information on environmental issues. On the website, you can sign up to receive daily environmental tips through your mobile phone.

The Break the Addiction Challenge reached out to students on campuses, to get them involved in greening their schools. The winners received money to renovate their student centres and make them more eco-friendlymeaning that the impact of this challenge will carry on long after the contest is over.

What do you think makes young people sit up and take notice of environmental issues?

It helps to have credible celebrities speaking out and changing their lifestyles, but also to see other really young people who are making an impact.

For example, a group of young people from West Philadelphia High School entered a contest to build a sports car that runs on vegetable oil. They beat out huge car manufacturers like Toyota. This kind of story is what makes people say, hey, if these young people in high school can do it, then so can I.

A combination of real stories about young people and awareness on the part of credible celebrities is what seems to help the most when you’re trying to get young people’s attention.

How did it go?

Initially intended to be a 12-month campaign, Break the Addiction was a huge success. The issues really resonated with the audience and so the campaign is not yet over. In June 2006, MTV asked their audience what they think is the biggest challenge young people face today. For the first time in memory the response was overwhelmingly: the environment. Eight out of ten people polled said that the time to act is now.

Issues relating to the environment are only heating up, said Rowe. MTV will continue to give out daily tips for the rest of this year, at least, and next year they are planning huge coverage of the presidential campaign leading up to the election, in which the environment will be one of the biggest issues. The website will also help inform young people about the process of registering and voting and get more young people out there and involved in the electoral process.

According to Rowe, young people are now certainly engaged around issues of the environment, more than ever before. And not only that, but they’re ready to take on leadership roles in the fight to protect the Earth.

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