Jonah Sachs: Using the Power of Story to Push Social Responsibility

Posted on 01. Sep, 2009 by in Design & Culture, Interviews

Jonah Sachs is Creative Director for Free Range Studios, a graphic design and creative services firm for non-profits, political campaigns and socially responsible businesses. Free Range is responsible for the wildly successful viral videos The Meatrix, Grocery Store Wars, and The Story of Stuff, which together have been viewed tens of millions of times. The firm has offices in D.C. and Berkeley, CA, and has also worked with Amnesty International, Green Mountain Coffee and Moveon.org. Jonah spoke with Opportunity Green about his inspirations, the future of viral marketing, and the importance of story in conveying a message.

OG: Tell us a little about what you do at Free Range.

JS: I spend my days thinking about creating breakthrough ways to use storytelling and technology to inspire people and make the world a better place. I’m a writer, a designer, a director and evangelist for what technology can do to change our culture.

OG: What brought you to the design space?

JS: I began as a writer and a journalist but I realized that how words were presented were as important as what words were said. The same idea expressed with visual beauty can communicate the idea with much more emotional impact. So I fell in love with design.

OG: What has been your favorite project thus far in your career?

JS: I think The Meatrix is still my favorite project to have created the concept and written. All the metaphoric bridges between the movie The Matrix and the world of factory farming just seemed to unfold before our eyes. That was so satisfying. And of course the results were thrilling. It’s been viewed over 20 million times.

OG: Who is your biggest inspiration?

JS: Joseph Campbell. Campbell did what would seem impossible: he looked at all of the most persuasive communications in human history (and I’m not talking persuasive in the sense of making you buy a new product, but persuasive in the sense of changing your whole sense of self) and identified what makes them work, what they have in common. This insight, which comes from both a scientific and spiritual perspective is an invaluable tool to anyone trying to shift public consciousness.

OG: How did you get involved with Opportunity Green?

JS: I connected with Karen Solomon a hundred different ways. Originally, we connected through The Story of Stuff because she is a fan. Later, Free Range Studios helped Opportunity Green hone their own messaging, so we’ve been involved on many levels.

OG: How vital is viral marketing to promoting the understanding and acceptance of sustainable practices both in business and our everyday lives?

JS: It was marketing that actually spawned consumerism in the 1950s as our economy was out-producing demand drastically. Marketing changed the way people saw their needs, their identities and the meaning of their lives. It changed culture in less than a decade on a deeply personal level. If marketing can do that, it can be harnessed to do the reverse. It is probably our only hope at this point, facing the enormity of our global challenges.

OG: How are progressive organizations making waves in the business world when it comes to promoting their positive message and making sure they’re not drowned out by big corporations?

JS: Progressive groups have become very good at using viral marketing techniques to compete effectively against the big spending corporate competition. They have an advantage there because people are far more willing to educate their friends than to advertise to them. The trick is to continually understand how viral networks work and what kinds of content they want and are willing to pass along for your organization.

OG: In 2001, Shift Magazine featured you as one of the “30 People Cleaning Up the Earth.” What were you doing to earn that title, and what are you doing currently to keep that title?

JS: At that time Free Range Studios was getting attention for our pioneering use of flash movies as an advocacy tool. In 2001, flash movies were more of an exciting promise than a proven technique. Since then, we have had some huge successes with that tool including The Meatrix, Grocery Store Wars, Friends with Low Wages and The Story of Stuff. But we’re not just about movies because the Internet is not just about passive consumable content. Today, the internet is all about conversations, and Free Range works hard to help our clients stay on the cutting edge of having authentic conversations with their users.

OG: What advice can you offer to those who have something important to say, but might need some guidance on how to get their message out there?

JS: What’s worked for Free Range and our clients has been to encapsulate every message into a human-scale narrative. People don’t respond to facts and figures, they respond to characters, conflict and story. There is so much information out there that you can’t afford to just put a message out there and hope it will speak for itself. You need to count on getting your audience to want to spread it. And for that you need to connect with them on the emotional level, through stories.

OG: Who is your favorite eco-person to follow on Twitter?

JS: Scott Badenoch [of Creative Citizen]. @thecitizen.

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One Response to “Jonah Sachs: Using the Power of Story to Push Social Responsibility”

  1. Pharmd689

    19. Sep, 2009

    Very nice site!

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