WT: Thanks for doing this Dirk. I have to say, I read a lot of press releases and this one is different. Could you explain who you are and what was in your recent press release?
Dirk Hempel: Thanks for being in contact! We are a company that is investing for our customers, doing this in (mostly) sustainable funds, and also in classic funds.
We had an idea, of how we could get the issue of climate change and investing together.
So we took a very different way of going into the public (sphere) about this issue.
We invented a fake company selling real estate twenty miles (inland) from the coast, where they say this will be the beachfront in thirty years due to climate change. This got a big discussion going on here in Germany.
This is not to suggest you should invest to profit from climate change, but rather invest to prevent climate change. This was the whole idea of the campaign,
we started a big discussion on social media and with the press in Germany.
Our main message is, if you want to do something against climate change, investment might be an option to do it, if you choose sustainable funds.
WT: When I was reading your press release I was incredulous, the first half I had to read over ten times. The way the press release is presented, a fake company selling real estate claiming this is where the oceans are going to be in 20 years, and I wondered “Why is this company not in jail?” When I got to the rest of the press release, I see, this is an investment firm that invented a fake persona for a real estate company. You aren’t selling real estate at all, just pointing to where the oceans are really going to be in time.
I looked at the data on oceans rising. I have something here from pubmed.ncbi showing the properties in Dade County Florida, where properties are expected to be inundated with tidal flooding in 2032, they have lost $3.08 per sq foot, per year in market value from 2005 - 2016. Then I read you are getting real inquiries to buy an ocean-front property based on your fake press release. How many of these inquiries did you get?
Hempel: There were some people that didn’t get the point, said, “Okay I would like to invest in this ocean-front property”.
Mostly, we got reactions, “Oh, is this real?” This is the effect we wanted to have, to get people talking about climate change.
We have the maps for Germany, and you can also see it on the Pacific coast shoreline, the ocean is coming. There are houses on the shoreline in California where people cannot live anymore because the shoreline is broken by erosion caused by the ocean. There are those that deny climate change, but this is really happening around the world, and happening already.
We didn’t want to have another advertisement for sustainable investment funds.
We want to show the possible impact of climate change on real people.
In the region where we ran the campaign, there are a hundred thousand people living there, they are a little bit afraid of what may happen to the coast, but the impact is not only near the seashore. This happens near rivers too, so it affects Germany, and all over the world.
We want to show this could be a real issue for a lot of people. Money may be a solution to change it if you invest in companies that do something against climate change.
WT: In the environmental media space, almost all of us fight for traction on stories and science about oceans rising.
I was just amazed that an investment firm from Germany, that I had not previously heard of, got such global traction for this idea. So now that you have the traction, what do you do with it, where do you go from here?
Hempel: We want to have a discussion (globally) about how we can stop this. The discussion is, “What can I do, what can everybody do, all day, to stop climate change?” We all have opportunities. Think about your consumption in your daily life. You can support organizations that fight climate change. You can discuss it with friends, with family, and make it a main topic in your daily life. Everybody can do something.
We are always looking (outside) to these conferences where the statesmen and women discuss the 1.5 C degree rise, that we should not have this, “heating up the whole world” effect. In reality, we don’t have to just watch it on the news, we can actually do something. Everyone can do something.
This is what we wanted to show, that it’s a very big issue for a lot of people in the world. Don’t just sit there and say “Oh my god, that’s bad!” and then get in the car and run somewhere, burning more gas, as this is also an issue.
Rethinking, what are we doing, are we doing enough? Obviously, we are not. I could support some organizations, I could change my own consumption, and I could invest in sustainable funds. There are different ways, and we show the different ways on our website.
WT: For all the entrepreneurs out there, tell us, how did your company come up with such a fantastic idea to get traction around climate change and the issues of climate change today? Can you tell the entrepreneurs who are going to be reading this, how you got here?
Dirk: This is a fantastic idea of a company involved with us – we are an investment company, and this (campaign) is from an advertising agency.
The idea is, let’s present climate change as an investment opportunity. If we see people are really thinking of doing a real estate investment out of rising oceans, (we know they are getting it), then we can change it to a discussion of what we can do to stop this from happening.
Everything was prepared professionally, they did over a year and a half of work on the campaign, they chose a very good actor to represent the fake company and made fantastic (videos) on real estate with the opportunity of rising oceans. It was presented as a very fruitful opportunity, absolutely professional but also with the intention of showing a very political message and the message which is affecting everyone.
If you have such creative heads, creative people working together, that understand very well what you want to say, and (this company did), they got it, they made a perfect campaign for us, very good quality and very smart.
WT: How did you counter the reactions from the public? In producing a website with beautiful graphics, and presenting it as real, people don’t know it's fake news. Did some people get mad?
Hempel: We monitored (the campaign) quite well, we watched it 24/7 to be sure it was not going off in the wrong direction.
We were prepared and always had the option to show the message behind the campaign. We started the discussion, with how climate change will affect us all, and “how bad will it be?” to “what can we do?” It started with a little newspaper over here in northern Germany, where some journalists saw (our ads) and decided to write about it.
WT: This is something right out of Mad Men, about advertising and using it properly. Are these suggested lands for sale, are these accurate numbers, real numbers for where the sea could be?
Hempel: We used scientific data from University in Hamburg, which is also close to the shoreline, with research on how (sea level rise) may affect Germany.
We ran the advertisement exactly in the areas that could be impacted, to show this could happen in twenty or thirty years, affecting us all, and our kids.
Of course, social media was a very good and important point to have the discussions.
WT: What happened with social media?
Hempel: Of course, the fake company got a lot of insults: “You guys are bad!”; “How silly you are!”; “How bad can you be, to make a profit out of rising oceans?”
Others thought it was smart. Some people are against the activists fighting climate change, and there are those claiming climate change is fake, so we had all these discussions coming out. The comments came around to saying, “This cannot be our future!”
WT: From environmental media, from journalists, you are teaching us how to get traction on an idea that has been overwhelming for a lot of people. Pass it on to your partners that this effort has been very successful, and thank you for doing this, just incredible.