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Protecting life on our planet with Sir David Attenborough, WWF and Netflix - #BehindTheIdea

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Our planet is in danger.

It is more imperative than ever today to help nature in any way we can. Reaching business leaders, politicians, old and new generations has never been so easy and, at the same time, so challenging for organisations all around the world. And yet, all WWF needed to start conversations was a story. The story of Sir David Attenborough and his life on our planet, supported by a stellar communications strategy and campaign.

With great humanity and emotion, WWF Senior Brand & Communications Strategist Emma Collacott shared her personal experience with this campaign, resulting in yet another story worth to be heard in its own right. So we won't steal any more spotlight from it.

Today, we are getting behind A Life On Our Planet, the life-changing documentary now on Netflix, produced by Silverback Films and WWF, and featuring Sir David Attenborough.

How did the initial brainstorming phase go?

Really well. We ran a series of creative workshops with colleagues from across the WWF network, as well as partner organisations. There were so many amazing ideas, the challenge was refining them down to those that would have the greatest impact within the time and budget available. We also needed to be incredibly agile to the changing external world.

Tell us more about the concept behind the strategy and comms campaign. How did it come to life, and why was it the right choice?

The idea of the film came about through conversations between WWF, Silverback Films and Sir David Attenborough while filming our previous collaboration, the Netflix series Our Planet. During its production, we felt there was a unique opportunity to use the timeframe of an individual’s life to publicly highlight the issues our natural world is facing, as well as offering solutions to shift attitudes and create a better world for nature and ourselves.

In our lives we can feel removed from nature and forget that it’s essential to our survival as a species.

This concept was one that we knew would resonate with audiences; parents and grandparents can relate to how much more natural the world was in their childhood, compared to what the younger generations experience today. So, who do you get to tell that story? It had to be the ultimate grandfather of nature, Sir David Attenborough, of course! Not only has he seen more of the natural world than any other, he is also a trusted voice in the environmental space and a passionate advocate for protecting and restoring our precious planet. We knew that this was a huge opportunity for us to not only engage the public on a global level – leveraging Netflix’s vast reach, as well as WWF’s international platforms – but to also broaden our communications strategy to engage business leaders, politicians, youth groups, celebrities and ambassadors and other influential audiences.

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Cheetahs in the Maasai Mara, Kenya. Credit: Netflix / David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet

When setting targets for the project we identified the biggest impact would come from a combination of landing powerful media coverage worldwide; creating content that would drive mass conversations on social media; and holding agenda-driving events with business, finance and political leaders to get them to support the change needed to get back in balance with nature and build a better world – especially as we recover from the pandemic.

The film was years in the making but during that time we saw the incredible movement to save our planet being amplified by inspirational people, especially the young climate strikers who were making decision makers sit up and take notice. I see those brave people as having helped to pave the way and shine light on an issue that got people talking. The film was just a small part of that bigger mission to save our planet but played a key role to build on that conversation and mainstream it.

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Fish stocks have been over-fished to critical levels. Credit: Netflix / David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet

What was the biggest challenge to the success of the campaign?

The obvious elephant in the room – the pandemic. The film was ready to launch in Spring 2020 with a world premiere streamed live from the Royal Albert Hall, but one month before release, the world went into lockdown and we had to revaluate our entire  strategy.

We postponed the launch and started planning for a release six months later but there were so many uncertainties which made it a real challenge. We went back to a phase of insight gathering and started asking questions: What were people thinking and feeling now? Would the message still feel relevant? Will we still be able to achieve the results we’d set out to achieve? What will the world be like in six months’ time? That last one was tough question to answer, so after months spent reviewing the external landscape we decided to focus on a digital-only launch. While it was disappointing to lose some of the incredible work we had planned – from community screenings of the film, to creative takeovers of train stations and shopping centres – we were forced to once again think outside the box.

We ended up holding a digital-only premiere that felt special and impactful; we worked with our partners to create some incredible digital assets that would generate global noise and media buzz; and we even worked with the filmmakers and Sir David to launch an Instagram account that would go on to break the internet with powerful messages about our natural world and share exclusive behind-the-scenes content from the making of the film.

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Wildebeest in the Maasai Mara, Kenya. Credit: Netflix / David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet

What is one funny or notable thing that happened during the production of the campaign?

Oh, so many. That’s the privilege of working with so many amazing people. We actually ended up making a little ‘team memories book’ as a keepsake afterwards because there were so many moments, we all wanted to make sure we’d keep with us forever. From managing bizarre media requests to Royal engagements dominating the headlines! My favourite moment was the day we launched the @DavidAttenborough Instagram account. The night before, I was doing all the final prep making sure the team were fully briefed and all our assets were ready. I had that feeling you get as a child on Christmas eve when you know the next day is going to be such a special one and my goodness, it didn’t disappoint. As soon as we pushed the button and set it live, it just blew up social media. I couldn’t stop hitting refresh on my phone; it felt so surreal and overwhelmingly positive. We hit the world record mark during our team Zoom meeting that day which felt incredibly special and I had a happy cry because it had been such a tough few months but this felt like such a good sign that people were engaged, excited and wanting to change our planet for the better.

I couldn’t stop hitting refresh on my phone; it felt so surreal and overwhelmingly positive.

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Instagram launch coverage

What was one typical day like during the production of the campaign?

Due to the scale and breadth of this campaign, and the number of partners involved, my role was really varied, and every day brought something new to get my teeth stuck into. One day I’d be heads down writing our messaging, another briefing and directing internal departments, another making sure our external partners were aligned and the next day planning content with celebrities. The key thread to my role is being collaborative and strategic to ensure every piece of the jigsaw puzzle slots together to add up to something bigger and impactful. The one thing that was a constant every day during the campaign, was the dedication, passion and comradeship of the teams involved – we were all in it together, at all hours of the day, working hard to deliver a piece of work that would transcend audiences, countries and boundaries with one central message: that we must protect and restore our natural world. I was so privileged to work with so many talented, creative and wonderful people – not just at WWF but across the many organisations and stakeholders we worked with to bring this project to life – that every day it felt like an utter blessing to be working with them.

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Young orangutan in Borneo. Credit: Netflix / David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet.

How is it to work with Sir David Attenborough?

People say ‘don’t meet your heroes’ but honestly, he is as inspirational in real life as on TV. He has dedicated his career to championing nature and has a wonderful ability where when he talks, people listen. He’s also incredibly humble and tries to reply to every single personal letter he receives in the post, which shows his kindness and respect for others.

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What’s the main message of the campaign and why does it matter?

Nature is in crisis and it’s happening in our lifetimes. Wildlife population sizes have plummeted by an average of 68% since 1970 and people don’t realise that this is linked to big issues like climate change and food production. We only have one planet to call home and if we don’t look after it then it‘ll have devastating impacts for wildlife and people alike. But the good news is we know what the solutions are, we just need enough action to put the plan into practice. By protecting wildlife, limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees, producing food in better ways, and changing what we choose to eat and buy, we can turn things around. It matters because it’s not just about saving wildlife, it’s about saving ourselves, because we are all a part of nature.

We only have one planet to call home and, if we don’t look after it, it‘ll have devastating impacts for wildlife and people alike.

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Deforestation and nature loss are major causes of global warming. Credit: Netflix / David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet

What is one unique aspect of the campaign?

In the media headlines and social media coverage we saw so many examples of behaviour change as a response to the film. The most common of those was individuals changing their diet. It was reported in iNews that of more than 2000 people polled by a tech agency, a third of respondents had started avoiding animal products because of productions like ‘David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet’.

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Example coverage of media headlines about behaviour change

How long did it take from inception to delivery?

It was at least 3 years between inception to delivery. Of course, the pandemic delayed our delivery, but the filming, editing and production of the film – along with agreeing distribution plans with both Netflix and the cinema distributors – took 1-2 years before we could lock in our communications strategy.

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Healthy coral reefs. Credit: Netflix / David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet

What do you hope it achieves for WWF?

I hope people feel WWF is a brand they can make a positive difference with and more than anything I hope the project continues to open up conversations in homes, classrooms, board meetings and political conferences around the world so we can all help save our precious world and make it a better place for wildlife and people alike.

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Sir David Attenborough pictured in the Maasai Mara, Kenya.

Credit list for the campaign?

All the WWF staff around the globe involved in planning and delivering the many parts of the project. The Silverback Films team who produced the film with us. The Netflix team who commissioned the film and brought it to the world. The Altitude Films team who distributed the film in cinemas. Of course, Sir David Attenborough himself. Plus, all the external allies who offered their expertise and amplified our work.

Whether you were a scientist, an activist, a creative, a business leader or a celebrity - thank you.

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Celebratory drink the evening of the film launch, with some of the WWF, Netflix, Silverback Films and Altitude Films team.

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