Ocean Plastics Are a Fascinating New Species in This Eerie Short Film

Goodby Silverstein & Partners helms campaign narrated by Morgan Freeman

plastic in the ocean
Plastics are positioned as predators in this chilling faux documentary created by Goodby Silverstein & Partners. United Nations
Headshot of Minda Smiley

Photos of milk jugs, water bottles and other debris washed up on the beach or scattered throughout the ocean are unsettling reminders of the deleterious effects our plastic consumption has on the world around us.

Unfortunate as it may be, these images have become commonplace, so much so that we’ve perhaps become numb to them. And the problem isn’t getting any better: Each year, roughly 8 million tons of plastic end up in the ocean, according to estimates from the United Nations Environment Programme. The World Economic Forum predicts there will be more plastic in the ocean by 2050 than fish.

To bring some urgency to the matter, Goodby Silverstein & Partners has created a haunting short film called “Life Below Water” that puts plastic pollutants in a new light. Narrated by Morgan Freeman and directed by Brian Schulz, the video is akin to a nature documentary—one where toothbrushes, grocery bags and bottle caps are examined as burgeoning new life forms worthy of study.

The campaign was created the for the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals, an initiative established five years ago to tackle issues such as hunger, poverty and gender inequality. The 14th goal aims to “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources.”

The ad cleverly, albeit eerily, drives home the point that plastics have become ubiquitous in the ocean, so much so that it appears to be their natural habitat. Of course, the reality is far from that, as plastic pollution hurts and kills birds, turtles and whales every year.

Kate Baynham, associate creative director at Goodby Silverstein & Partners, said The Silent World, a 1956 documentary about sea exploration, served as inspiration for “Life Below Water.”

“It created a sudden desire to learn more and explore the depths of the ocean previously unseen,” she explained, “which is why we decided to parody nature documentaries to make the modern issue of ocean plastics feel like an invasive species of fish. We need documentaries to make a place like the ocean feel relevant to our daily lives.”

The campaign will roll out on YouTube throughout this month. To encourage viewing, the agency has created two 6-second spots to garner interest. Viewers who skip the short film on YouTube will be served 15-second spots afterward that focus on “key messages” from the campaign.

Over the next year, “Life Below Water” will be featured at the United Nations General Assembly, the Tribeca Film Festival and Advertising Week. It will run alongside campaigns from seven other agencies, all of which were selected by the United Nations, YouTube and Google to create films that raise awareness of the Sustainable Development Goals.

@Minda_Smiley minda.smiley@adweek.com Minda Smiley is an agencies reporter at Adweek.