What If We Marketed Nature the Way We Market iPads?

Hi Folks! This post comes to us from England, where  independent filmmaker David Bond is making a documentary about  MARKETING nature. I like that idea because I’d like to do something similar: MARKET the happy, confident childhood kids can enjoy if parents “buy”  the fact that  it’s safe. If you have any more ideas on how to market EITHER of these lovely things — nature or Free-Ranging — let’s hear! And good luck to David with his film, Project Wild Thing! – L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: Recently I came to a terrible realization. My kids, aged 3 and 5, are more excited by any screen — TV, iPad, whatever —  than they are by anything else. Even hanging out with me! Cake, cameras, the zoo, parties — they all pale compared to screen time. That’s why I decided to make a feature-length documentary film about reconnecting children to nature. (And experiment on my kids!)

When I was a child, I’d play outside after school. TV wasn’t a priority. There’s an argument made today, responsible for increasing time spent on screens in schools, that technology prepares children for the future. I agree in some respects. But is a childhood with increasing screen time and decreasing nature time ideal?

When I take my little treasures outside, I see them change. They become carefree.  Their eyes focus away from the tiny zone that screens occupy. They become engrossed in the world. Nature in its glory, from dewy lichen to the Armageddon of a proper storm, lifts them up where they belong, where the eagles cry, on a mountain high, to quote Joe Cocker.

These embarrassingly hippie-ish thoughts (I’m a proud rationalist) prompted me to make the Project Wild Thing documentary. I wanted to find the answers to these questions: Why don’t children love nature as much as TV?  And yet why, when they get dumped in it, are they so happy?

When I started making the film, I only wanted to see what would happen if my kids went outside more. Since then, I’ve realized that the things children love and demand are the things that are constantly marketed. So now I believe marketing might be the best way to try to get kids to love nature as much as cartoons and apps.

So I’ve appointed myself Marketing Director for Nature, and spent the last nine months in my new role. I’ve discovered surprising truths about how we sell to children. But I don’t have the deep marketing pockets of Nintendo or Coke, so I’ve had to improvise.

Project Wild Thing follows me from my backyard in London to the boardrooms of Madison Avenue to the Highlands of Ethiopia as I try to persuade apathetic consumers – and my own family – of the benefits of nature.

Along the way I meet naturalists, brain scientists, play experts and marketing professionals, and with their help I put together a team of 8- to 12-year-old kids to try to sell nature to the public.

It’s an exploration of how we’ve allowed kids to become so disconnected from the natural world, and a look at the things we can do about it.

The film is almost done — we just need to shoot final scenes. But we’re a little short of the funds to complete it. That’s why we’ve launched a Kickstarter page.

We’d love the nature movement to get behind this film. If you’d like to help make it happen, please watch the trailer and check out our Kickstarter page: http://bit.ly/projectwildthing.

Thanks, David Bond

David Bond working on Project Wild Thing


28 Responses to What If We Marketed Nature the Way We Market iPads?

  1. Elizabeth Renton November 19, 2012 at 5:18 pm #

    Has David been in contact with Richard Louv’s organization The Children and Nature Network? I’m sure they would have a lot of interest in this project. He should talk to Amy Pertschuk, Director of Network Communications for C&NN.

  2. Jet November 19, 2012 at 5:19 pm #

    Donated. Let’s market the world, people!

  3. Tony Shreck November 19, 2012 at 5:45 pm #

    I absolutely agree with the spirit and the mission, but I can’t help but get a little giggle out of the documentary that will be viewed on … screens!

  4. Emily November 19, 2012 at 6:03 pm #

    @Tony Shreck–I agree, but sometimes you have to try to reach people on their own level.

  5. Koren Duffy November 19, 2012 at 6:23 pm #

    What a wonderful idea! And you know, I think advertising nature really would work. Just look at these broccoli ads:


    As stated in the following article, these ads were made just to prove that TV marketing still worked.


    “Without additional promotion or support, they generated an 8 per cent increase in broccoli sales”

    I, myself, bought a bunch of broccoli after seeing these adds on TV.

    Although well intentioned, I am disappointed with the trailer for project wild thing though, as it is looks like a boring documentary of research, a foretelling of our imminent doom. Too much about the disconnect. Not enough solution. I don’t feel wooed by the “product” the way I do with a good advertisement. Not particularly inspiring. I think ads will work better at getting kids out there than a documentary. I see a documentary as more of a thing to get all “intellectual” over; writing letters, doing interviews, having living-room discussions over. With an ad, you can show the pure and simple, light and airy wonders of the natural world as seen through the eyes of children, and seeing other children giddy with delight in a forest, listening to birds, catching minnows with bare hands as they wade into the water, making frog mazes with sticks etc. Add a little imagination and some TV magic, and you just might sway a person to venture out into the wild!

  6. Virginia November 19, 2012 at 6:31 pm #

    Market nature? Like http://www.discovertheforest.org/ does?

  7. Amanda Matthews November 19, 2012 at 6:37 pm #

    “There’s an argument made today, responsible for increasing time spent on screens in schools, that technology prepares children for the future. I agree in some respects. But is a childhood with increasing screen time and decreasing nature time ideal?”

    It’s not like if screen time was reduced in schools it would be replaced with nature time. It would be replaced with textbook time. Kids need both more screen time and more nature time in schools. Textbook time needs to be eliminated and replaced with screen time, (non-text)book time, and nature time. You can even combine those three in various ways throughout the day.

  8. Koren Duffy November 19, 2012 at 6:39 pm #

    Hmm, okay, on review, I see I wasn’t getting it right. I guess David Bond IS PLANNING ON MARKETING nature, but the trailer and the documentary serve to a) give him income to support all his research expenses for learning and b) teaching others how to market nature (I guess).

  9. Erika November 19, 2012 at 7:33 pm #

    This is another great film about getting kids back into nature–and how little time they spend there now. http://playagainfilm.com/

  10. Warren November 19, 2012 at 7:35 pm #

    Pretty much agree with all that is being said here, except the getting rid of text time.

    The kids going onto further their education these days are lacking research skills. If it cannot be found online, then it doesn’t exist. It is not all online.

    My eldest is in University, and when her and I were talking, she had told me that in one class, they were instructed to get really creative with an assignment. Over dinner she was tossing ideas off of me. Then we came up with the idea of attacking the assignment with information not available online. She spent hours in a few libraries.

    Her first comment to me, was that there was so much not available online, that she could have done ten assigments.

  11. Bob Davis November 19, 2012 at 9:51 pm #

    Regarding the broccoli ads, I have sometimes wondered whether eating habits would improve if fresh produce was marketed as heavily as junk food and soda pop. Sounds like someone actually tried it.

  12. Captain America November 19, 2012 at 10:25 pm #

    If you want a really stimulating documentary, check out “Pond Hockey” on the hulu channel.

    It’s a fascinating look at hockey, and points out how invaluable real life hockey, played outdoors on ponds, contributes much more than indoor ice.

  13. Warren November 19, 2012 at 10:26 pm #

    LOL, eating right when it comes to kids, is very simple. Put the plate infront of them and tell them this is dinner, eat.

    Funny how the helicoptering ones will see it as fine for their kids to be infront of a screen for endless hours, unsupervised, but won’t let them outside without parental supervision. And there is the rub. For them to get their kids outside, in their mind they have to be out there to.

  14. Emily November 20, 2012 at 12:39 am #

    @Bob Davis–When I was a kid, there were commercials for milk on about every five minutes, the newspaper gave out free Milk calendars every New Year’s, and this stretched into my adolescence, when every teenage magazine in existence featured the Milk Moustache campaign. There were milk programs in schools too–neither of my elementary schools had cafeterias, but the one I went to from grades five through eight offered parents the option of ordering milk for their kids, so they’d get it every day at lunch time–either white, chocolate, or both, alternating by week. A lot of kids, and even one teacher, took the school up on their offer (because it was relatively cheap, and supposedly healthier than pop). I didn’t participate, because I’ve always hated milk (and I’m vegan now), but honestly, it didn’t do much–kids still drank pop, Sunny Delight, and all manner of sugary beverages, and ate tons of candy and junk food, especially Pixie Stix and those huge jawbreakers that change colour. Uncooked ramen noodles straight from the package were also popular. Anyway, my point is, promoting “healthy” choices (quotation marks because dairy products are falling quickly out of favour) isn’t enough to stop people from making unhealthy choices, either instead of, or in addition to, the healthy (or “healthy”) choices.

  15. This girl loves to talk November 20, 2012 at 2:27 am #

    a good reminder to force kids outside even though its hard ( i have four kids and sometimes it can feel like me versus them and they win occasionally 😉
    we live inner city but enjoy camping and the odd hike (however this is only a few times a year) and I agree with his statement that kids just change and the world is their oyster!
    with camping I say as long as there is water (creek or stream), trees, and some string and rocks my kids are entertained for hours/days!!
    yet if at home I passed them some water and string and sticks and said go at it.. I might get an eye roll instead (my little ones would play with it for a while but the older ones)

    I find it hard to remove the ‘distractions’ so the kids can be wild and carefree and chose outdoors. I suppose I’ll just have to try and up my nature outings. and impose more non screen time.

  16. mollie November 20, 2012 at 2:46 am #

    I donated. I want more of this message out there!

  17. Librarymomma November 20, 2012 at 3:13 am #

    Several thoughts came to me as I read the first few lines of this post. The first was this: that although my son loves “screen time” as much as any other kid I know, he also loves when I read to him even more than screen time. That’s because from a very early age I invested time with him, reading to him for a good half hour or more at least once a day. And when I couldn’t (or did not want to) read to him, I let him listen to an audiobook (courtesy of my local public library). To this day, he loves reading and books, even though he’s almost nine and can read on his own pretty well if he’s pushed.

    As far as nature goes, it’s awesome and we should encourage our kids to spend time in it as much as possible. Again, this requires some kind of time investment on the part of parents in the form of family camping or scouting or other nature groups. I’m just as guilty as the next parent as using the computer and TV as a babysitter, but I know that if I want my child to spend less time online and more time in the real world, I have to interact with him.

    Freerange parenting certainly plays a part in this, of course. So do other parenting choices. And I think a parent can be Freerange and also involved in his or her child’s life. At least, I hope so.

  18. catspaw73 November 20, 2012 at 4:10 am #

    @Warren I had the problem last year when eldests year 6 teacher insisted all research for homework had to be googled. Hineata and I ignored it most of the time :-)

    Well eldest is off on an overnight tramp today with her class and the rest of her syndicate (so 90 odd kids). Sleeping in tents tonight on bed rolls and cooking on camp stoves :-). Love the New Zealand education system (sometimes lol) 😀

  19. JP November 20, 2012 at 6:00 am #

    Dear Mr. Bond,
    (009, moneypennies notwithstanding)

    In answer to the puzzling question, why don’t children cleave unto nature these days the way they take to technologized screens?
    I think the answers are rather simple, but can be profound…

    When I was a kid, dysfunctional or any other kind of home-produced stress, along with a general boyish wanderlust, took me out of the house every chance I got. This was not remarkable or unusual – we all did it.
    Once permission was granted to leave – we left. At tender ages. Times were different.
    Now – tender ages are indeed, not allowed (in many cases.) So what do kids do to de-stress? They tune out (in bedrooms and basements) with the aid of those same small screens you mention. Or giant wall screens, as the case may be.

    Further: I was a reader, like many of my friends. We read everywhere, but mostly at home. Did this turn us into bookish louts, slugs of the printed and sedentary variety?
    Not a bit of it. You see, the thing was, to first whet the appetite for whatever it was we found on the page – and then go on out of doors to find it for ourselves.
    And there’s the rub. For ourselves.

    Of course, I happily tagged along with my father on outward bound fishing trips – off into the wild beyond…but they were rare. The rest of the time, the much nearer wild beyond was attained by myself alone, or perhaps with a friend or two.
    We would wander over hill and dale, field and stream, lakeshore, river shore, and all manner of natural settings.
    And there – we would discover all by ourselves, nature abundant. As a kid, I adored books about nature…gorged on them every chance I got. But they were never so good as nature herself, in all her glory.

    But my real point is this: we were not supervised in her attendance. We made acquaintances in a free range way, at our own speed, in our own time, according to our own moods, style and fashion. And what did we find? Woodland trails to map with compasses and coloured ribbons to not get lost. Swimming holes to flounce in au naturale (no girls around.) Wildlife to watch: otters, beavers, cranes, crawfish, freshwater clams, raccoons, muskrats, field mice, rabbits galore, weasels, owls and hawks, snakes, snails, frogs, turtles, foxes, (and very rare – a bear.)
    We were young, and grew in wild smarts – straight from the horses’ mouth.
    And the more we grew this way, the smarter we became.

    For we were wild things – climbing rocks and trees, hills and cliffs, tracking weather, counting boxcars, eating berries and cherries and all manner of wild edible things – working up appetites for ever more.
    And we grew to love this stuff far more than any screen, or anything on it.
    The distance from the center of our small city to the edge was not so very far…a wicked fast bike ride would take us there in no time at all. But we went in all seasons – trudging through even the deepest snow (it was a northern place, after all.)
    And above all: it was fun. So much fun it was magic. We laughed and cried and howled. We sweated and baked, froze and be-drenched ourselves – huddled in caves and warmed to small bonfires, told stories and pondered the beauty of our world…our very real world.
    And all this before I was 11 – when I became a boy scout and learned how to do it all over again in a much more organized way (and in larger groups.)
    But the thrill of it first touched me at…..what, 8? Imagine.
    And it has never left me….(50 years later.)

    So yes, children need nature. For they are by nature – natural.
    It is a good and wholesome thing, all around. It is not so fearsome or so dangerous (when knowing what one is about.) And how to learn? Slowly, carefully, thoroughly.
    Step…by independent step.
    As a child, I felt nature hold my hand. And calm my fears. As well as any parent ever could. A trustworthy friend? Oh yes.

  20. AW13 November 20, 2012 at 1:40 pm #

    “As a child, I felt nature hold my hand. And calm my fears. As well as any parent ever could. A trustworthy friend? Oh yes.”

    Our collective view of nature has turned from being a trustworthy friend to being a place of abject horror. The unknown is always frightening – but once you get kids outside to know nature, it becomes navigable (as most fears do). And it becomes valuable. But if it is viewed as frightening, then it can quickly become something that must be eradicated to relieve our fears, and the eradication of nature is one of the most frightening outcomes I could contemplate.

  21. Dee November 20, 2012 at 5:19 pm #

    Totally true. We may not like it but we respond to what is marketed to us. It’s why Coca Cola and McDonalds are so successful. It’s even more intense when you are a child, your mind is still growing, and you are more easily swayed by suggestion.

    So Mr. Bond has it correct. Kids are barraged – in print, video, and by buzz marketing – to be interested and intrigued by electronics – TV, games, etc.

    The hard part is that the virtuous side (whether it’s nature or healthy food) simply cannot match the marketing dollars and power of the unhealthy/electronic side. Coca Cola will always have more marketing dollars than water (we won’t get into Dasani!). Apple will always have more marketing dollars than David Bond.

    That said, any effort is better than no effort. The City of New York is making efforts (controversial though they may be) against junk food. At one time, we thought it was normal to smoke in planes and restaurants; now that idea is completely foreign. Same with seat belts. At one time no one used them. I don’t know that we can say most people use them, but they are used far more than they once were.

    I can say that in my childhood, I played A LOT in nature, but I had a whole woods in back of my house. There is no where my son can walk to easily that is “nature,” it’s only contrived nature. But I also watched A LOT of TV as a kid. I don’t let him watch as much as I did, largely because it sucks him in so intensely.

  22. Amanda Matthews November 20, 2012 at 6:53 pm #

    @Warren the library is not filled with textbooks. Research is generally not done via textbooks. Yes it is important to learn to research, but textbooks as they are now – often riddled with inaccurate information, with the accurate information being available elsewhere for free, and made purely to make money – are not the way to do it.

  23. Sarah@Kids Eat Real Food November 21, 2012 at 9:01 pm #

    Brilliant idea David Bond! I must admit, I got a bit depressed thinking about the challenges that lie ahead of me as a parent. It is going to be very difficult to “protect” my son from the barrage of technology that will be coming at him from a young age. All I can do is try to be the best role model I can be, and that will include exposing him to the wonders of nature as much as I can.
    I wish you all the best in your venture!

  24. Karen Szillat November 24, 2012 at 9:01 pm #

    The Wilderness Awareness School in Duvall, WA is a wonderful resource for learning how to connect with nature whether you are an adult or a child. You can go to their website and sign up for one or all of their free e-classes, in which you will receive a handful of messages by e-mail that will teach you about connecting to nature, the language of birds, how to identify wild plants, and naturalist training. They also have camps for kids, camps for adults, lecture series, and an on-line store. Check them out at http://wildernessawareness.org.

  25. Darcy Scheele November 30, 2012 at 4:21 pm #

    SEOPledge, the internet marketing wing of Canrock Ventures, is looking for web properties interested in increasing their traffic. We specialize in traffic generation with the use of SEO, SEM, and social media. Get in touch with us at our contact form on our site.

  26. Fish Finders April 9, 2013 at 1:57 pm #

    I think we as a country try our best to market nature (most of us), but the problem is, we don’t have the type of funding that large corporations like Apple have to spend on advertising. Unless of course the government helped out, but they in debt up to their eyeballs.


  1. The un-American, Anti-Secession Nazis Want to Deport Secessionists. Hmmm. (and other news…) » Scott Lazarowitz's Blog - November 20, 2012

    […] Lenore Skenazy: What If We Marketed Nature the Way We Market iPads? […]

  2. Se7en's Fabulous Friday Fun #148 - se7en - November 24, 2012

    […] totally loved this post on Free Range Kids: “What if We Marketed Nature the Way we Market iPads?” Can I just say I love […]