Before going into the model, I do want to acknowledge that this is a first attempt, a draft open to discussion and clarification. We are not designers of Hallmark cards but creators of action. I do hope that experts from the field of behavioral science provide feedback, positive and negative.
While any criticism may hurt as I truly admire this tribe, I am happy to receive it. I am a member of the conservation tribe as well and as such my goal is to contribute to the betterment of the world. First and foremost, however, I am both a realist and a father that cares deeply. As a realist, I know we urgently need action for the world to survive and as a father, I want to achieve this goal.
The Impactainment Model via Hidden Worlds Entertainment
Our focus is on media and entertainment, and I hope to effectively summarize all of our findings in one model applicable to the industry. The model was designed with a focus on the themed entertainment industry, but I do believe there are also applications in other sectors from new media to the film industry among others.
Our model starts by clearly identifying who the target audience is. Do we approach the public broadly or do we attack a smaller segment? What are the audience’s belief systems and tribes? How do we avoid messaging that either goes against the tribes’ belief systems or prevents tribes from merging due to sensationalized and/or polarized messaging?
We also need to identify the medium used. For example, news media, which is currently very polarized might not be the ideal platform. Scientific publications, on the other hand, target a niche segment that is often already aligned with the subject matter. For example, the consensus in the scientific community is that climate change is real, not much convincing is needed.
How do we generate the initial attention? We all know that “if it bleeds it sells” but will this lead to more polarization and sensationalism? Are there better ways such as a visually appealing trailer, a fun piece of content, or a witty, not offensive, headline?
Why do we focus on themed entertainment? Because it not only appeals to a broad audience, it also provides visually appealing messaging. An amazing ride, an Instagram-worthy backdrop, a captivating theatrical production, or a delicious immersive dining experience. The format holds the potential to pull you into a story ecosystem.
After capturing the audience’s attention, we need to convert such attention into an emotional connection. First of all, we need to ensure that we provide a story, not a list of facts. Next, the story itself needs to be optimized so it is most relevant to the audience, including elements such as situational relevance and character relevance. Is an outcome created that the audience could relate to? For example, do we focus on rising sea levels threatening coastal communities, heat-related deaths of the elderly, or reductions in farm yields for midwestern farmers when discussing climate change? Depending on the audience, the answer will differ. Also, and as shallow as it sounds, can we highlight the cases of people that are “like” the audience in terms of appearance or belief system? Lastly, can we focus on the one instead of the many in order to ensure we have a home run?
A well-structured, relevant, and emotionally appealing story should provide a sufficient trigger for the audience to adopt a target behavior. For this, however, we need to provide choices (no mandates) that should be achievable and ideally fun. We need to remember that, while the end goal is generating a positive global impact, the hardest part is the initial buy-in. As such, the initial investment is key. Also, do we fully understand the outcome of the choices provided, and have we ensured that the choice is not leading to an adverse outcome? Can we incentivize co-creation for example? Can we get a public commitment? Gamification techniques with special emphasis on variable rewards need to be integrated in order to maintain momentum.
The core challenge here is extending the connection to the audience beyond the attraction. Can we leverage societies, fan clubs, social media, and other tools to keep the momentum going far beyond the initial audience engagement? More importantly, can we extend the momentum into a movement by forming a tribe?
Creating a tribe is the ultimate goal and the hardest step in this model. Frankly, I don’t believe forming a conservation-focused tribe is achievable or desired by most entertainment players. As we know it is its own organism that beautifully supports the habit formation cycle through the community. Within a tribe rewards are highly variable, communication is plentiful, providing triggers, and members are incentivized to invest due to a desire to belong and achieve social status.
In the case of environmental protection and climate change mitigation, we face an additional monumental task of building tribes in a way that avoids any political polarization. We need to ensure that the initial attention mechanisms do not create a toxic scenario of us vs them. Ultimately no matter the political orientation our goals are united under the banner of conserving the environment and effective moderation needs to ensure that this guiding star remains.
Interestingly, entertainment conglomerates are masters of tribe-building. Marvel, DC Comics, and the Harry Potter franchise are just a few examples of fan-supported movements that are truly powerful. Do the same companies hold the relevant expertise in environmental protection? It’s unlikely.
Perhaps partnerships provide an interesting opportunity here. Nature is truly magical and holds real superpowers from natural disasters like volcanic eruptions to beautiful formations of stalactites and stalagmites in underground pools. Could there be an opportunity for Marvel to partner with environmental groups? Luckily, we see such formats emerging as in the case of the Natural History Museum partnering with the Fantastic Beasts franchise. There are amazing conservation groups out there that have community building at their core such as Beneath The Waves, PangeaSeed, Oceanic, and EarthEcho (full disclosure all are Hidden Worlds partners). And it doesn’t have to be a non-profit or charity, the for-profit sector offers opportunities for partnership as well. There are brands that are truly amazing in building environmental awareness through community building, you only have to look at the work done by Parley.
This only leaves authenticity, and this part needs to come from the heart. Are we honest about our mission? Are we transparent about our impact and intent? Do we have the skill to execute the impact mission or should we partner with someone? And in the case of partnerships: does our partner possess the honesty and skill required?
Authenticity to me is probably the most important element in the model yet it is highly subjective and open to interpretation. Does the end justify the means?
People will apply different ethical benchmarks here, however, it is important to maintain a solid baseline across honesty, transparency, and skill. If there is doubt whether or not the line has been crossed in either you can be sure that the line in fact has been crossed.
It is our goal to further refine and test the model by looking at real-life case studies. This will hopefully also allow us to weigh the different elements in terms of their ability to generate impact. For example, Arcadia Earth received overall positive guest reviews yet industry professionals are highlighting several challenges in design and execution. With founder Valentino Vettori genuinely attempting to drive change could it be that authenticity matters most? However, are there ways to measure post-experience engagement? Footprint Coalition, an impact-focused fund, made an investment, so one can assume a quantitative assessment was made. For me, personally, the most eye-opening moment was the difference in emotional connection I felt when visiting Dreamscape and NatGeo’s Ocean Odyssey (now closed). The latter provided a theme-park-type journey through the ocean that barely had a storyline and no emotional connection whatsoever. It saddened me as we need digital aquariums to be successful to combat the massive animal abuse, especially in growth markets such as China. Dreamscape’s The Blu, on the other hand, provides a beautiful narrative engaging the audience actively, leaving a long-lasting impression. It is amazing how one, an entertainment-only player, aces the narrative while the other, an impact-focused attraction, fails. My only wish is for Dreamscape to partner with an ocean-focused community to translate the emotional connection into action.
Furthermore, I sincerely hope this framework can inspire development not only in the area of environmental impactainment but in other areas as well. Take mental health, for example. As previously mentioned, the immersive Van Gogh shows are visiting all but three of the 35 major metropolitan areas of the United States. Guests take selfies, promoters make money. But could there be more? Could we create a tour focused on beautiful art from artists with mental health issues, Van Gogh included? Could there be a partnership between a non-profit, an immersive touring company such as our friends and business partners Factorr, and data artists such as Refik Anadol? Could we build art pieces reimagining the works of the old masters where every brushstroke and every pixel represents mental health issues so that those suffering know they are not alone? Those are low-hanging fruit that become clearly visible once we genuinely decide to do more than maximize profits, once we decide to create impactainment.
I want to close this article with an amazing statement I first heard when listening to Shane Parrish’s podcast The Knowledge Project: “Cynics and pessimists don’t innovate.”
We must act regeneratively and give back more than we take. We must all strive for impact and that includes us professionals in media and entertainment. And while we might not possess the skill to develop carbon capture or fusion, we have the power to create motivation and community. And who knows, the next technological breakthrough might come from the mind of a child that was motivated by your attraction. The next crisis is coming, and climate change is the ultimate test we will face. It’s time to step up and become the heroes I know we can be.