Drew Barrymore went to bed upset after watching Don’t Look Up, Adam McKay’s 2021 allegory for the climate crisis. As the asteroid got closer and closer to Earth, no one—not journalists, leaders or celebrities—could convince people of the danger it posed. It felt all too real.
Although the movie was “an absolute masterpiece,” Barrymore said it also was a reminder of how people process and digest information these days. After watching it, she remembers walking around her apartment the next day trying to process it. In an always online and overly inundated world, the movie was a reminder that no singular voice or message can break through—no matter how loud, how important, or how urgent.
“I can’t stand the accuracy of the silliness and the divide and the crazy behavior and it doesn’t seem like what anybody says will ever rise to the top,” Barrymore tells Forbes. “It will just keep getting swallowed down into the mass hysteria.”
A self-described optimist and news junky, she hasn’t given up. But instead of taking the doomsayer approach, she’s taking a page from McKay’s book by using a different tone to cut through the noise: Optimism.
Barrymore stars in a new ad campaign with Grove Collaborative, a maker of eco-friendly household cleaning products. The first commercials in the campaign, which debuted this week, use solutions to address the problem with plastic.
One of the ads uses the 1964 classic song “Wishin’ and Hopin” by Dusty Springfield as people proudly sing and dance with plastic dishwasher and detergent containers on their way to the recycling bin. But Barrymore interrupts. Just 9% of plastic gets recycled, she says, citing a 2019 study published in the peer-reviewed journal Science Advances.
“I also really feel that [being] proactive is important,” she says. “Sort of wishing and hoping and manifesting and all that stuff is really great spiritual practice, but there has to be lot more activity. I want to feel engaged and active. Otherwise I feel passive and fearful. I like hopeful as an attitude, not as a strategy.”
Barrymore recalls learning about Grove through an Instagram ad and becoming a customer on her own long before becoming a partner. She also recently invested in the company, which announced in December plans to go public by merging with a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) backed by billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Group Acquisition Corp II. Though Grove wouldn’t disclose the amount Barrymore invested, Branson’s SPAC plans to provide up to $435 million including $87 million in fully committed common stock PIPE financing from other investors.
Though Barrymore is one of Hollywood’s most recognizable actresses, she doesn’t see herself has having any more of a platform than the journalists, leaders or celebrities whose voices couldn’t cut through the noise in Don’t Look Up.
“I don’t think I’ll ever see myself in that way,” she says. “I think people in the traditional sense have a real platform. Part of that is because so many people have a voice now, which is maybe is the great karmatic balancing act. Technology shifted so that we don’t have to listen to one voice. We can listen to everyone.”
But Grove’s CMO, Jennie Perry, who spent nearly a decade at Amazon before joining Grove last year, says Barrymore does stand out. It’s her optimistic persona, she says, that makes the message resonate.
“We’ve all become addicted to plastic and the CPG industry has played a very large part in the problem,” Perry says, adding that its Grove’s “duty to re-educate customers . . . that there are acceptable and easy ways to make a difference.”
Commercials that address climate change are still a relatively small sliver of marketing. CreativeX—a startup that provides data about ad creative—analyzed nearly 280,000 image and video ads run in 2020 by CPG, beauty, fashion and alcohol brands and found that only 3.5% mentioned green initiatives. Only 29% of the ads mostly avoided negative-associating terms like “pollution,” “fossil fuels,” and “deforestation,” while the other 71% used positive terms like “sustainable,” “renewable” and “recyclable.” (Nearly half used the word “green,” but just 1.4% used “preservation” and just 7.1% used “plastic.”)
David Ewald, professor of advertising and brand responsibility at the University of Oregon, says the tone of Grove’s campaign “helps connect complicated, catastrophic” topics with audiences that want to do something about them. It also “sets the stage for a larger set of conversations and actions.”
“If this campaign helps more people consider their true environmental footprint and ways to improve it, it’s a success,” Ewald says. “Moreso, I hope that more companies invest in true sustainable products and methodologies. As it stands, the lack of reporting standards and environmental law mixed with the ease of glossy advertising makes the line between good intention and green-washing razor thin.”
According to a survey of nearly 1,500 executives conducted by The Harris Poll between late-December and mid-January, 58% said their organizations were guilty of “greenwashing” and 66% expressed doubt about how genuine some sustainability programs are. The survey, conducted across 16 countries on behalf of Google Cloud, found that 71% of retail and CPG companies felt that ESG efforts were a priority—the highest among the industries included in the results.
Grove’s strategy is not to alienate consumers. While filming the campaign in February in a house in Montclair, New Jersey, Barrymore was initially supposed to sing and dance along with the rest of the cast. But if the point, she says, was to go against the grain, shouldn’t she do just that? Or would that have her come across as smug?
“I hate know-it-alls,” Barrymore says. “The judgment, the pressure, all of that just doesn’t speak to me . . . If there’s one tone that bums me most on planet Earth, it’s smug.”
Perhaps part of the reason why she feels this way is because she too is new to sustainability. She’s driven a Toyota Prius for nearly a decade but has insisted on drinking from Styrofoam cups to keep her beverages cold. Then, in 2019 during the inaugural season of The Drew Barrymore Show, she invited her best friend—actress and environmental activist Cameron Diaz—to make a guest appearance.
Diaz had been challenging Barrymore for two decades to live a more a sustainable life. So during the show’s pilot episode, Barrymore got down on one knee and “proposed” to Diaz personally do more to protect the environment. And although Barrymore admits it doesn’t always feel as though the changes she makes at home are enough to have an impact—and believes companies like Grove need to lead the charge.
“You see Burger King doing the Impossible Burger,” Barrymore says. “That was just three years ago, and the plant-based movement is everywhere. All it does is take a spark to ignite a fire. It’s about big companies and corporations making these giant changes.”