Let’s play spot the oxymoron.

To celebrate Earth Hour, ad magazine Campaign Brief — with Earth Hour partners Fairfax/The Sydney Morning Herald — is offering the chance to win a trip to Cannes. Yes, in a big old emission-puffing plane.

Thanks guys for switching off your lights, we’ll now use it to offset our delightful European sojourn! Campaign Brief writes:

[We’re] offering two trips to the creative team who demonstrate the most effective and/or inspirational way to leverage Earth Hour 2008 and The Sydney Morning Herald is offering a trip each to the client and agency person behind the best work…

“Just about the whole industry has put aside its cynicism and pledged to support this initiative”, says CB. “How many times in your life do you get offered an open brief that encourages you to openly borrow from a Cannes-winning idea?”

Yes thank you dear ad companies for putting cynicism to one side, but forgive us if we can’t. Earth Hour might have noble aspirations, but the execution is a little murkier, with greenwashing as far as the eye can see.

It’s an indisputable boon for advertisers. Companies get to put on their hippie hairshirt — with apologies to Christian Kerr — while they let Australians do the real work of fumbling around in the dark for an hour.

Even Earth Hour’s partners aren’t afraid of making a bit of money out of the venture. Take, for example, Fairfax’s Earth Hour “Lights out” supplement. Who knows about carbon, it was definitely advertising offset. Of 40 pages, we counted 16 1/2 ads for such outfits as the University of Melbourne, Toyota, Fiat, Cascade, Bendigo Bank and Origin Energy.

Then of course there’s the advertising for Earth Hour itself. The AGL Earth Hour light bulb balloon that blew hot air over Australian cities got lots of positive coverage, with most of the media swallowing the press release whole. Wrote the aptly titled Adelaide Advertiser:

The balloon is on loan from energy company AGL, which has invested over $2 billion to deliver renewable energy sources to help secure Australia’s energy future.

The company has a diverse power generation portfolio including base, peaking and intermediate generation plants, spread across traditional thermal generation as well as renewable sources including hydro, wind, landfill gas and biomass. One of Australia’s largest renewable energy producers, AGL is looking to further expand this position by exploring a suite of low emission and renewable energy generation development opportunities.

Oh yes, AGL are very good on the green energy thing but, like with Earth Hour, it’s consumers who do much of the work, paying a 5.5c premium for every green kWh. And while they seem serious about this green biz, they’re also a minority investor in Victoria’s largest brown coal mine which is responsible for about 7% of Australia’s stationary sector emissions.

In one of the weekly women’s mags, readers were even presented with a special Earth Hour insert sponsored by Panadol. With the tag, “Have a safe Earth Hour”, they provided glow-in-the-dark stickers to label items in the unlit house: wall, step, cactus, samurai sword, etc. Wonder how much energy that took to produce.

Yesterday, we received a media release from the folks at Cold Power. They had their own inventive spin:

As Australians switch off the power on March 29th for Earth Hour in aid of helping our beautiful planet, another easy step for householders is to simply switch on to cold water when doing the laundry! It is an easy everyday step that is often overlooked, but it really does help the environment by reducing greenhouse gases. Using less energy with a cold water wash cycle will help reduce air pollution.

It’s serious business this Earth Hour.

Send your examples to [email protected].

Peter Fray

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