For an environmental PSA to be truly effective, it helps to not only confront the issue at hand in an unflinching manner but to also employ a sense of humor, to get a bit weird and, if necessary, to break out some nightmarish CGI effects. It’s then that you’ll get people talking — and, ideally, acting.
In “Hairy Nose,” a 90-second video spot produced by WildAid China with ad firm McCann Shanghai, we get it all: an unapologetic directness (refreshing considering China’s predilection for government-sponsored denial when it comes to environmental issues), off-kilter humor, a touch of freakiness and some truly unsettling computer animation that may have you reaching for your Norelco.
In other words, it’s strange and silly but also completely sobering.
Here’s the premise: In a perhaps not-so-distant dystopian future, residents of Chinese cities have ditched surgical masks and evolved to grow impressively excessive nasal hair as a sort of defense mechanism-cum-fashion statement after years of breathing in highly polluted air. This isn’t nose hair of the yikes, Grandpa Eddie needs to do something about that variety. Rather, it's lush, mane-like hair that positively flows; nose hair that can be conditioned, combed, braided, styled, waxed and permed.
Acting as a filter for toxic particulate matter, everyone, young and old, has sprouted luxurious nostril locks, babies and dogs included. And everyone, it would appear, is totally fine with it. And by “it,” I mean both obscenely long nose hair and the “putrid, choking air and never ending smog.”
Having already “adapted to the environment” these “survivors of the pollution age” have seemly forgotten about what it’s like to live in a city that's not cloaked with smog, if they ever even knew in the first place.
“To them, this is just the way it is.”
Well, not everyone is fine with it. Towards the end of the video, a heroic narrator emerges and rises above the smog-shrouded freak show, nose hair trimmer in hand. “Rather than blindly submit, I’ll experience breathing because it reminds me that the sky was once this blue,” the narrator, freshly liberated of his grotesque nose-mane, states as the camera pans over fading Polaroid snapshots of a clear-skied Shanghai.
And then comes the big message: “Change air pollution before it changes you.”
Serving as the surrealist centerpiece of WildAid China’s new GOblue campaign, “Hairy Nose” was produced in response to a survey conducted by the nonprofit that found over 90 percent of Chinese citizens are concerned about air pollution. And, ostensibly, they’d like to do something about it.
The goal of GOBlue is to relay to concerned citizens, particularly city dwellers, that they shouldn’t sit around on their haunches, waste their money on imported Canadian air-in-a-can and wait for the government to take aggressive action. Instead, they should take action themselves and embrace “smart, low-carbon transportation choices in order to improve air quality and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.”
"Air pollution is the number one environmental and health concern in urban China, but most people are waiting for the government to enact change or improve the situation,” elaborates May Mei, WildAid's Chief China Representative, in a press release. “It’s important that individuals know they have a role to play too.”
Writes Matt Grager for WildAid:
A 2015 WildAid survey showed that 88% of people in Tier-1 cities believed vehicle exhaust was the main source of haze. Despite 58% of survey respondents believing that the government and individuals are equally important in affecting change, the top ways respondents believe air quality can be improved are all government-led actions. "Hairy Nose" reminds citizens that they can make a difference, too — especially the nearly three-quarters of car users that report willingness to reduce driving time to improve air quality.
While the aim of “Hairy Nose" — it's now airing on Chinese television and on taxi and subway screens — is to serve as a slightly disturbing conversation starter, it does refrain from sharing the truly unsettling statistics:
Each year, upwards of 500,000 Chinese citizens die prematurely due to complications brought on by severe air pollution; some estimates believe the figure to be as high as 1.6 million. Additionally, lung cancer deaths have grown over 465 percent over the last 30 years. WildAid also notes that In northern Chinese cities where air pollution tends to be more oppressive, the average life expectancy is roughly 5.5 years less than life expectancies in southern cities.