Sailing Through Authentic Waters: The Impact of Eco-Friendly Brand Collaborations


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The Impact of Authentic Brand Messaging on Oceans

It's never an easy day to be a brand marketer in today's social world of fervent supporters of endless causes. One misstep, and - chaos ensues, until the next screwed-up thing sparks attention away, or enough time passes. Some issues however get more of a rallying cry than others - and that includes the environment, oceans, and sustainability.

The recent collaboration between McDonald’s and Disney’s The Little Mermaid has just sparked a whirlwind of social controversy not fun for either brand. All due to an unintended decision that undoubtedly was accidentally overlooked. I bet this won't be a mistake made again in the future by either the studio or the fast food empire. In this blog, Hollywood Branded delves deep into the complexities of brand collaboration and its impact on the oceans and white rectangle  with black link (5)

The Dissonance Between Branding and Messaging

In today's digital age, where consumers readily voice their opinions online, brands are under scrutiny, with any missteps magnified, as evidenced by the viral image of a summer movie promotional campaign shared on Reddit. At the heart of the debate is a simple apple slice packaged in a plastic wrapper adorned with imagery from Disney's ocean-centric tale, The Little Mermaid.

The problem here is... the collaboration includes The Little Mermaid on a branded plastic bag that will negatively impact the oceans, the environment, and all that lives within it for years to come. The glaring irony has not escaped consumers, many of whom view this as a significant oversight in brand messaging, at least according to the over 1,300 comments bashing or weighing in on the collaboration on the Reddit post I viewed. It's enough commentary that the media is already picking it up too. This has legs and may skyrocket into the news cycle. 

Little MermaidPhoto Credit: Disney

The Environmental Impact of Plastic in Oceans

The stark figures shared by UNESCO’s Ocean Literacy initiative highlight a daunting reality: 80% of all marine pollution consists of plastics. These plastics persist for centuries, breaking down into microplastics that infiltrate our food chain. Beloved marine species, reminiscent of characters from "The Little Mermaid", fall victim to these plastics through ingestion and entanglement. We eat them, and we get poison-plastics in us too. Isn't this so fun to contemplate? Welcome to our new normal. Unless it changes.

McDonald's reportedly has 4.1 million apple bags sold every single day.  That's a lot of Little Mermaid-branded plastics that are going to end back up in our waterways, soil and potentially food chain.

Little Mermaid x McdonaldsPhoto Credit: Mcdonalds

Monterey Bay Aquarium

More than ever, it is necessary for both brands and entertainment partners to ensure that promotional campaigns authentically align with their messages. Through our agency's work with Monterey Bay Aquarium, I've become increasingly aware of the inconsistencies in brand messaging and promotional campaigns around the ocean environment. It's a hot topic and is only going to grow in focus and is very specific to Gen Z and Millennials.  

Monterey Bay Aquarium stands as a testament to marine conservation and education. Located on the oceanfront in Northern California, it boasts over 200 exhibits teeming with 80,000 marine entities. Beyond mesmerizing displays, the aquarium is an active champion for ocean health, driving initiatives like sustainable fisheries and combating climate change. With a multifaceted team ranging from scientists to educators, the institution's primary mission is unwavering: to inspire ocean conservation. It literally is one of the best aquariums in the world - and an absolutely magical experience. 

Their teams' commitment to marine conservation is unparalleled, and you've seen their scientific education at work in films like “Finding Dory”, which is set at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and depicted in the movie as the Monterey Marine Life Institute.

Their team helps ensure storylines and even event activations around ocean conservancy are authentic and that both the messaging on screen - and off, is aligned. The investment in having focused extra eyes that are environmental and ocean specialists on your campaign is far less costly than activating a full blown crisis communication plan - and makes those onscreen stories even more impactful. 

If you haven't ever been - absolutely worth building a vacation around a visit!

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When Film Messages Clash with Promotional Marketing

Even Mr. Environmentalist James Cameron and Avatar 2 had an unfortunate press event that caused some social outcry. During a promotional tour for "Avatar 2: The Way of Water," he was unexpectedly led to a fan event at an aquarium, where is quoted as saying he anticipated a conservation-focused setting similar to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. To his shock, he discovered it featured a dolphin show only as he was stepping onto the stage. Although upset, he refrained from causing a scene, making a sarcastic comment about the dolphins' consent instead. The film's central theme revolves around whale conservation and empathy, so he expressed regret over unknowingly endorsing a captive dolphin show. Jame Cameron also stressed the importance of sustainable choices, advising against consuming fish and advocating for plant-based diets, as he has done for a decade. He expressed remorse for the oversight and emphasized it was unintended.

Avatar 2 Photo Credit: Avatar, The Way of Water / Direct

His decision to make a statement helped calm the outcry. Those who chose to be outraged continued to be, others were mollified by his response. 

While films aim to enlighten minds, their primary objective remains profitability. Without financial success, their educational impact diminishes. This often results in brand extensions being created that feature non-sustainable products like plastic. 

Other Instances of Brand Inauthenticity

This isn't the first time brands have missed the mark in their campaigns:

  • Major bottled water brands frequently depict serene, untouched landscapes in advertisements, all the while significantly contributing to the global plastic crisis.
  • Several apparel brands champion eco-friendly collections, yet their primary lines remain entrenched in unsustainable practices.
  • Certain cosmetic brands have launched "ocean-inspired" product lines, only to include ingredients like microbeads that exacerbate marine pollution.

Patagonia-Denim-2Photo Credit: Patagonia Denim

The Call for No More Plastic

For brands who want to keep critics away, investing in non-plastic solutions is the smartest strategy.  Consumers - and communities - are actively requesting other options, including biodegradable plastics. LAX Airport announced that plastic bottles will not be sold onsite in 2024. Aluminum has become the preferred packaging type - something our client Canned Water 4 Kids (CW4K), was an innovator in. 

The non-profit was founded by the very dedicated Greg Stromberg with the mission to provide children worldwide with access to clean, safe drinking water. Apart from their commendable initiatives that really do save lives, CW4K was one of the first water brands to use aluminum packaging with both cans and bottles, prioritizing environmental responsibility alongside their primary mission. It is a brilliant platform to support and 95% of sales go to helping others. Go check them out and do some good while having a drink of water.


The Business Case for Authenticity

Authenticity is not just an ethical standpoint but a strategic business decision. Brands that remain genuine in their messaging foster deeper consumer trust, translating to long-term loyalty. Conversely, brands that falter might face backlashes, boycotts, or even lawsuits over false advertising and environmental violations. The potential repercussions are both reputational and financial.

In an era where environmental concerns dominate global discourse, brands, and the film industry alike, must rise to the occasion. Collaborations should be approached with caution and conscientiousness, ensuring campaigns resonate with authenticity and responsibility. The modern consumer demands nothing less.

Obviously, no one purposely screws up campaigns. It's a marketer's absolute nightmare. And in today's preciously PC times, extra care is needed.

Scroll down to see my suggested 14 steps to take to create authentic brand collaborations. And keep your eye out for potential ironic moments in your campaigns. 

HB's Guide To Authentic Brand And Filmmaker Collaborations

In the world of Hollywood, where storytelling meets branding, the quest for authenticity becomes paramount. As the dynamics of branding continually evolve, the collaboration between brands and filmmakers is no exception. Whether you're a brand seeking the silver screen's limelight or a filmmaker eager to weave brand narratives seamlessly into your storyline, this guide is your blueprint to authenticity. Dive in and discover the art of genuine storytelling collaborations.

1. Dive Deep Into Core Messages and Values

Every successful partnership begins with a thorough understanding. Before taking any steps, brands and filmmakers need to dive deep and understand their own and each other's core messages and values. It's all about syncing up and finding that perfect harmony.

2. Do Your Homework

In my years in Hollywood branding, I've seen the importance of researching potential partners. It's imperative to delve into past campaigns, sustainability endeavors, previous controversies, and CSR initiatives. The goal? Finding that perfect match.

3. Two Heads Are Better than One

When you've got your potential partners in sight, it's brainstorming time! Gather the minds from both sides and brainstorm. The outcome? Ideas that truly resonate with both entities, oozing authenticity.

4. Transparency Is Your Best Friend

Whether you're in Hollywood or Madison Avenue, clear and open communication is a game-changer. By being upfront about aspirations, challenges, and any reservations, you're building a foundation of trust.

5. Bring Everyone To the Table

Want to avoid potential pitfalls? Engage stakeholders from all walks – marketing, production, sustainability, and corporate responsibility. A range of perspectives can help identify and address any potential missteps early on.

6. Keep The Dialogue Flowing

In this dynamic world of branding and entertainment, continuous feedback is paramount. By maintaining a feedback channel, any hiccups can be identified and sorted out in real-time.

7. Knowledge Empowers

Ensure every individual, from the creatives to the marketers, recognizes the weight of authenticity in any collaboration. Regular knowledge-sharing sessions can be a great tool to ensure this.

8. Get An Outside Perspective

It's sometimes wise to bring in third-party agencies for an audit. Their external viewpoint can shed light on aspects that might be missed internally.

9. Gauge The Pulse Of The Audience

Before hitting the 'Go' button on any campaign, get a sense of how it might be received. Focus groups can provide invaluable feedback on the perceived authenticity of the campaign.

10. Think Long-term

In Hollywood Branded's experience, it's the long-term, deep-rooted partnerships that bear the most fruit. They allow both parties to grow and evolve together, ensuring a persistent alignment of values.

11. Embrace Constructive Criticism

In this age of digital immediacy, feedback is rapid. If there's a hint of inauthenticity, audiences won't shy away from pointing it out. Embrace this feedback, learn from it, and use it to improve.

12. Stay Ahead Of The Curve

The world changes fast, and it's essential to stay updated on global shifts, be it social, environmental, or political. By keeping a finger on the pulse, strategies can be adjusted to stay authentic.

13. Reflect And Refine

After any project wraps up, take a moment to reflect. Analyze what worked and what didn’t. Use these insights as a foundation for future partnerships.

14. Authenticity Above All Else

Profits matter, but not at the expense of authenticity. I've always believed that true, authentic partnerships might require more upfront, but the long-term impact and returns are unparalleled.

As consumers become more discerning and crave authenticity, the onus is on brands and filmmakers to step up. Authenticity isn't just a buzzword; it's the cornerstone of successful collaborations. Following this guide will ensure that partnerships not only resonate but also endure the test of time.

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Eager To Learn More?

The power of eco-friendly partnerships is irresistible. If you want to learn more about the impact collaborations have on the audience, read these additional blogs below!

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