WASHINGTON Using marketing to form a network where citizens can participate in issues they care about is the concept behind the effort to promote Leonardo DiCaprio's The 11th-Hour documentary about the environment.
The campaign combines advertising technology with social causes in a way that is designed to motivate parties to take action.
The goal is to use the documentary as a tool to foster a community of people who are looking to improve the environment by contributing money or volunteering time at a nonprofit focused on green issues, said Brian Gerber of Tree Media Group, the documentary's producer.
"We wanted to make it a very inclusive thing by bringing people in, giving them tools for action and letting them have a conversation with other people," Gerber says.
The documentary takes pains not to plow over the same ground already well worked by Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth. Rather, says Gerber, the purpose is to take off where Gore's documentary ended by showing people that global warming is a symptom of a larger problem rooted in how humans use resources and to offer up some solutions.
The marketing effort's structure is what makes it unusual, says Emily Riley, an analyst at Jupiter Research. "The combination of the mainstream movie, social marketing know-how and the action-oriented causes behind the movie is likely to stimulate more consumer response than a typical nonprofit might get," Riley says. "The fact that it is that organized is unique."
Here's how the campaign, which began Sept. 12, works. (11th-hour officials say it is too early to offer any results.)
An online video player features a preview  for the documentary— and the player can be expanded to fill a full screen. Four buttons at the bottom of the unit allow users to perform different functions:
Clicking on the first button sends the entire player to a friend.
The "take action" button links viewers to more than 100 nonprofits focused on global warming and other environmental issues.
The "embed" tab uses widget technology to allow viewers to post the player on social network sites and blogs or social bookmarking sites like Digg.com.
And the last tab offers exclusive footage not seen in trailers for the film.
"This campaign enables cause-oriented groups to be tied with word-of-mouth marketing," says Michael Leifer, CEO and cultural anthropologist at Guerilla PR, a non-traditional marketing and media shop that built the widget technology used in the campaign.
PopRule, a company that helps create digital networks allowing online users to take action, focused on the user participation part of the effort. "We affiliated with organizations who appear in the 'take action' button to expose users to those groups that are doing things around the climate change issue," says Rob Kramer, PopRule's CEO and founder. "People are willing to take action if they are given the proper tools, and the tools have to be easily accessible and simple to use. Here is a nice little neat package that allows users to branch out."
The campaign is organized in three phases. The first phase began when the video players were placed on nonprofit sites like greenmavens.com, adventureecology.com, stepitup2007.org  and Al Gore's personal MySpace page. Each player is customized so that the nonprofit groups' logos appear instead of the documentary's logo.
"A lot of these nonprofits don't have a video server or customized player and it makes them look much more advanced," Leifer says. "It also offers them a whole array of interactive content which ultimately will increase their support base."
In the second phase of the campaign, which began Sept. 25, Zango, an online media company providing Web videos, games, music and other tools, pushed the player out to its list of 20 million customers through its new advertising format called "Slider." (The player ad "slides" up from the lower right-hand corner of a Zango user's screen in a manner similar to instant message notifications.)
"We like the Slider because it is not an intrusive format and it is different from a banner ad," says Val Sanford, Zango's vp, marketing. "Bringing this kind of citizen democracy content that is cause-based helps us to be valuable to our users. And our brand is available to everyone who sees this [movie] trailer whether they are a part of our network or not."
The 11th-Hour video player also carries a seven-second sponsorship ad from Gaiam , the lifestyle media company. SpotXchange, an online video advertising network, secured the sponsorship deal and created the Gaiam ad. SpotXchange allows advertisers to target their commercials by region or by context through a network of video content.
"The folks at 11th-hour said, 'This is the movie and we want to promote it via this widget idea in front of people who are concerned about the planet, and we would like to get a sponsor that matches our demographic audience who believes in the same causes,'" says Michael Shehan, SpotXchange's CEO.
From Gaiam's perspective, it was a natural fit. "This online branding campaign reaches our target audience and positively associates Gaiam with those who are educating and assisting on the issues of global warming," says Jason Marshall, a Gaiam vp.
The details for phase three are still being worked out, but current plans call for more traditional online banner ads on sites like YouTube and ESPN.
Zachary Van Doren, director of integrated marketing at the digital consultancy Alliance Network Group, says the 11th Hour effort goes beyond what is typically provided within a widget.
"This is a like a widget on steroids because it provides a more complete content experience than what is usually articulated in one widget," Van Doren says. "It provides a means in which to solicit action on the users' end. Whether it is going to a green shopping portal or a green action network, it provides that immediate funnel. It harnesses the power of the DiCaprio brand and the nonprofit brand and that is unique."
Jupiter Research's Riley says nonprofits are well suited to this type of initiative. "They have low marketing budgets and social networking tactics are not very expensive," she says. "Half of all marketers have an online marketing budget that is less than $25,000 a year, and very few online efforts ever crack a couple of hundred thousand dollars."
Wendy Melillo is an Adweek contributing writer and assistant professor at the School of Communication at American University.