If you’ve worked for a media company (or, really, any brand with a public presence) at some point in the last decade, you’ve likely heard someone in your office urging your business to do something that goes viral. This is usually a fool’s errand, as guerilla campaigns from big brands can often be transparent if not downright dreadful (see an out-of-touch Roger Waters defacing a mural to deceased Elliott Smith in an effort to promote his 2010 tour). But sometimes big agencies get it right, like DDB China did in its effort to promote walking over driving.
For its project for the China Environmental Protection Foundation, DDB noted that 40% of carbon dioxide emissions come from cars, and that there are now more than 500 million cars in China. So the agency came up with the rather brilliant (and participatory) Green Pedestrian Crossing:
"We decided to leverage a busy pedestrian crossing; a place where both pedestrians and drivers meet. We lay a giant canvas of 12.6 meters long by 7 meters wide on the ground, covering the pedestrian crossing with a large leafless tree. Placed on either side of the road beneath the traffic lights, were sponge cushions soaked in green environmentally friendly washable and quick dry paint. As pedestrians walked towards the crossing, they would step onto the green sponge and as they walked, the soles of their feet would make foot imprints onto the tree on the ground. Each green footprint added to the canvas like leaves growing on a bare tree, which made people feel that by walking they could create a greener environment."
After an initial deployment on seven Shanghai streets, the award-winning Crossing was later expanded to 132 roads in 15 Chinese cities. DDB estimates that 3.9 million people participated. Predictably, it blew up across Chinese media channels, and was even featured in the Shanghai Zheng Da Art Museum.
All told, DDB says it "increased awareness of the issue by 86%"—though how they measured that is a little hard to grasp. Assigning quantifiable value to an awareness or advocacy campaign is usually tricky, and there’s no guarantee that awareness begets a shift in behavior from walking to driving. Nonetheless, the campaign itself is a stroke of brilliance: It’s clever, infectious, and aesthetically pleasing, and it beautifully illustrates the significant difference between the small steps of a single person and the giant strides we can make when we walk together.