By: Samantha Coppola /
Through an array of images and advertisements that call attention to environmental issues,
various species of animals are used to invoke sympathy in humans. In gaining the viewer’s
sympathies on behalf of the helpless animals, the goal is then to empower the viewer to help/save
that animal, which in doing so requires him/her to acknowledge the environmental issues in the
human’s environment in correlation to the animal’s habitats.
There are several ways in which advertisements use the animal image as an emotional trigger for
their audiences. Depending on the type of animal and how it is portrayed can send very different
messages. Generally speaking, the cuter and well known the animal is, such as a polar bear,
tiger or giant panda, the more people care and sympathize with it as opposed to ‘ugly’ animals
or insects that are typically disregarded. Additionally, the representation of the animal and the
environment it is placed in also dictates the message’s intentions.
Before this recent wave of spectacle presentation where ads now focus more on the affect they
have on the viewer by catering to the audience’s emotions, advertisements typically used to
provide information in a direct, statistical manner, such as the images below.
“In terms of resource exhaustion, pollution, global warming, deforestation and habitat
destruction, and animal cruelty and rights abuse, most people manage to largely ignore it.
Creatively constructed print and television advertisements however, are more captivating and
tend to affect a lot more people” (Msaleem 1).
For example in Wolfgang Kaehler’s photograph in The Guardian in June 2007 for Environment
Day, with the theme being ‘Melting Ice,’ the image emphasizes the negative effects climate
change can have on various ecosystems and their biodiversities by highlighting an animal. In the
caption next to the picture the organizer, which was the United Nations Environment Program,
stated that it “wants to highlight the effects of global warming on polar ecosystems and the
communities that live there.” All of the crisp whiteness and detail of the glacier in addition
to the blue sky give the impression that the wild is a truly beautiful sanctuary that one might
enjoy getting lost in. Ultimately the key component in this picture is the penguin, particularly
its posture which emphasizes how meek and curious the defenseless animal is. This tactic
essentially brings forth pity from viewers, yet also sparks curiosity as to why that split is so
evident. The final message that this image shows is of great importance; and that is the blatantly
large crack right down the middle of this penguin’s habitat.
Having a powerless, cute animal looking directly at the split in the snow draws further attention
to how global warming is having major effects in other areas of the world that the general
population does not give thought to on a daily basis.
On the other hand, this next ad exemplifies how animals are many times pictured in exaggerated
manners, emphasizing the urgent need for action to save our environment. Some of these
photos that place the animals within a human’s reality, ultimately, expose our relationship with
the animal, that detached relationship being distanced from one another. Acknowledging the
possibility of these animals in a human environment calls for empathy on the human’s part
because we picture ourselves as that animal and how horrible/confusing it must feel to be in a
Here the placement of Arctic animals in a city, a parallel to the stereotypes of homeless people,
gives the viewer a sense of uneasiness because it seems odd to think about exotic species in our
homes and cities. This giant, furry polar bear and seal belong in their natural habitat; so the
image of them in an alien environment makes us question the possible results if the human race
fails to take action and preserve the planet.
The establishers of the Earth Day Network (EDC) created a “global mosaic” that focused on the
chosen theme “The Face of Climate Change” where they put together images of people, animals
and places directly affected or threatened by climate change. “The idea behind the theme is to
personalize the challenge climate change presents by spreading the stories of those individuals,
animals and places affected through imagery” (Sheer, Moss 1). The mosaic aims to expose the
relationship that both people and animals have with the earth, emphasizing how regardless of the
species, climate change effects the environment in negative ways, therefore hurting all of us on
this Earth. In this example, empathy can be attributed to both humans and animals.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT (VIDEOS)
-After seeing both of these videos, what are some of the similarities and differences between the
-Do you think one was one was more effective than the other in the respect that the images/
events in the ad triggered a strong emotional response? If yes, then how so?
-Do you think the use of animal images in some of the advertisements you’ve seen helps make
the environmental aspect of the message more clear and important?
- Kaehler, Wolfgang. “World Environment Day.” Guardian [London] 5 June 2007. Web. 27 March 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/gallery/2007/jun/05/photography
- Msaleem, . “20 Disturbingly Creative Ads for the Environment .” Web Ecolist Going Green. Web. 28 Mar. 2014. http://webecoist.momtastic.com/2008/12/27/creative-ads-environment-
- Reynolds, Garr. “Presentation Zen.” N.p., 12 Aug 2011. Web. 2 Apr. 2014. http://www.presentationzen.com/presentationzen/2011/08/
- Scheer, Roddy, and Doug Moss. “Getting Ready for Earth Day 2013.” EarthTalk. 30 march 2013. Web. 29 Mar. 2014. http://business-ethics.com/2013/03/30/2419-getting-ready-for-earth-day-2013/
- “10 Controversial Environmental Ads That Will Blow Your Mind.” Huffington Post [NYC] 17 April 2013. Web. 27 Mar. 2014. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/17/controversial-
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