David Bond describes himself as the marketing director for ‘the ultimate, free, wonder product’. Is it electronic? A game? A household appliance? No. It’s ‘nature’.
He is also a parent, and the creator of Project Wild Thing: a film and movement aimed at getting kids out of the house, away from iPads, televisions and computers, and into nature. The irresistible allure of entertainment technology and the marketing muscle of the immensely powerful companies behind it are what David calls his competition. He believes that his children would love the outdoors – it’s just that they choose, or are rather encouraged to choose, otherwise.
The film begins with David attempting to drag his screaming children outside, a sight perhaps too familiar to many parents, both in the U.K., Australia and elsewhere. Footage of his daughter Ivy and son Albie using iPads and electronic games shows them mesmerised, addicted in the same way that many of us constantly check our email, Facebook newsfeed or Instagram account. One scene ironically shows Ivy playing a game involving a simulated horse on her iPad - an image that was strangely unsettling to me, both as an animal and an Apple lover. By strapping a camera to daughter Ivy’s head, David discovers that she spends as little time outdoors as she does in the bathroom, with the majority of her day-to-day time spent in front of a screen inside the house. It’s clear that this surprises even him, with Ivy also telling her dad that she loves the TV because she finds it ‘relaxing’.
Project Wild Thing portrays both David’s urgency in increasing ‘sales’ of nature, as well as the truly enjoyable times that he, his family and others can potentially spend in their outside surroundings. The film also suggests an inherent understanding and love of nature within our children, depicting it not in opposition to our humanity, but rather as congruent to who we are as people. The title of the project itself alludes to one of the most well-known children’s classics: Maurice Sendak’s Where The Wild Things Are. Whether or not the reference is intentional, the message is very much the same: the project representing a child’s desire to be wild; escaping the indoors for the immense playground that is our natural world.
Perhaps the highlight of the project is David’s primary marketing campaign – a photograph of his daughter callously licking a frog, plastered on billboards, city streets and in shopping centres all over London. A confronting image to some, but endearing to many, Ivy and her amphibian friend have helped the project gain momentum in a world where ads for electronics, cars and kids’ toys monopolise the advertising space.
Although often humourous and light-hearted, this film does not fail to deliver some alarming realities regarding the impact of technology and a lack of outdoor activity on today’s children. An increase in time spent indoors is said to be linked to a significant decline in the health and wellbeing of children. More frighteningly still, for the first time in history, Ivy and Albie’s generation is predicted to have a lower life expectancy than that of their own parents.
However, when researchers surveyed people on what an ideal day of fun was for them and their families, there was one consistent answer seen across the board, transcending age group, social class and location: ‘being with my family, being outside, with fun things to do.’ Such a survey seems to suggest that where people want to be is outdoors, but what they actually do is an entirely different thing, as busy lifestyles and the fear of ‘stranger danger’ inevitably get in the way.
So what can be done? Is it possible to compete with the endless list of brands that tell children being inside and in front of a screen is better than enjoying the wonders of our natural world? Can David Bond really be the marketing director for nature, or is the appeal of the outdoors now just as obsolete as dial-up internet or the VCR?
As I write this, I myself sit outside, in the sun, on a day that’s perfect for cloud watching or a walk to the park - yet I'm also on my laptop, with an iPad and my phone by my side. So are we, the consumer, also to blame? Of course we can’t simply target the companies, because, after all, they wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for us hoarding their never-ending array of commodities. And it’s not necessarily about not buying the products, but rather using them as a means to a different end. This is exactly what David has done by creating the app “Wild Time”, designed for children, yet accessible by all, as a way to encourage them to get out and explore nature. What I see as one of the many inspiring things about Project Wild Thing is this attempt to utilise consumerism and marketing culture to portray nature in a more appealing light – because what’s better than beating the marketing head honchos at their own game?
However, promoting the outdoors is something that’s definitely easier for marketers of the tourist trade and related industries. It’s a whole other ballgame when it comes to marketing the natural marvels around your own home. So whether David’s project will be successful still remains to be seen, but I sincerely hope that (at the very least) it’s a push in the right direction for families struggling to cope with too much of an indoor lifestyle, or an eye-opener for those who might not recognise the problem already. Either way, this film has inspired me (although not as a parent) to get outdoors, and to dedicate more of what I do here at Wild Melbourne to encouraging kids, teenagers and adults alike to become more involved in nature.
Project Wild Thing is still to be released in locations outside of the United Kingdom, although the movement is already growing in popularity on social media, with the film receiving a collection of favourable reviews.