The Future Of Retro: Captain Planet And The Power Of Social Media

The nature of trends is to die out—especially on television. So last Earth Day, I was amazed to see Captain Planet, the star of the 1990s TV series “Captain Planet and the Planeteers,” trending worldwide on Twitter. Don’t get me wrong—I love Cap. He was one of my favorite “stars” to work with when I was vice president of PR at Turner Broadcasting. After all, he had great hair (how could you not love that green mullet?), a catchy theme song, and a message you could really get behind—and not just because it was my job.

SuperHeroBut was it possible that the world’s first eco-superhero could still have a growing fan base 15 years after he went off the air? To find out, I asked Barbara Pyle, executive producer and co-creator of the award-winning TV series with Ted Turner.

“Anything is possible with the Planeteer Movement!” exclaims Pyle, with her signature burst of infectious enthusiasm.

Q: So what is this Planeteer Movement? I don’t recall that being part of the TV series.

A: Young adults who call themselves Planeteers for real have networked themselves together using social media. The brand and message of Captain Planet are very much alive and more relevant than ever for the millennial generation. Today, the Planeteer Movement’s Captain Planet Facebook page has well over half a million fans, with 60% in the 18-24 range, and another 30% in the 25-34. That kind of advocacy and brand loyalty is something you can’t buy.

Q: That’s pretty impressive! What made Captain Planet and the Planeteers stick?

A: It was more than a cartoon. Its empowering message of collaboration, diversity, and sustainability became the hallmark of this generation. As kids, they identified with the Planeteers, who created Captain Planet out of their combined powers to do the heavy lifting while they did the real work themselves!

Now as young adults, they not only believe they have the power to make a difference, they have a commitment as the stakes are far greater. They’re building local Planeteer Networks around the world using Facebook Groups to plan meetings and projects. These Planeteers have become the empowered global citizens Ted and I always hoped the fans would grow up to be. ‘The Power is Yours!’ is not just a slogan to them—it’s a shared worldview.

Q: It must be very exciting to find “your peeps” still using Captain Planet’s call to action created over two decades ago. How did you first meet them?

A: It all started with my retro Captain Planet tote bag. I get asked about it every day. I was carrying it with me when a group of young Planeteers approached me, as they immediately recognized it. We started talking and they told me how the show still affects their daily decisions and even their career choices. They wanted to hook up with me on Facebook, so I joined. That was 2009.

Once a member, I looked to see if people were saying anything about my favorite superhero. They were—I was stunned to see that Captain Planet had over 200,000 fans already on Facebook. People were tweeting about him constantly, and the theme song had millions of views. What?! That’s when I first started thinking about the potential impact of networking these passionate fans.

Q: How did you harness all that energy?

A: I invited five of the most committed of these grown-up Planeteers to “combine their powers” and organize the Planeteer web presence that could connect these fans globally. We scheduled conference calls in mid-June. By July 4, they had built one of the cleanest, hippest websites ever.

We officially launched the Planeteer Movement worldwide on September 15, 2010, the 20th Anniversary of Captain Planet’s first broadcast. 

Q: How did social media come into play?

A: We partnered with an existing Australian fan page to create the Planeteer Movement’s Captain Planet Facebook page and it’s growing exponentially. Volunteer Planeteers set up a Twitter account, @PlaneteerAlert, where we hold Twitter parties with cool swag and ‘twittersodes’ enacted by character accounts tweeting the original episodes. CaptainPlanetTube is the YouTube channel where Planeteers post everything from retro content to current events.

All of this has been powered by the Planeteers—completely word of mouth, completely grassroots—with no real professional marketing or PR to drive membership.

Q: sounds like all this online activity results in a lot of real-world action.

A: In February, I visited the Ghana Planeteers in West Africa with Laura Turner Seydel, chairperson, Captain Planet Foundation. It was truly inspirational to meet their partners, attend a monthly clean-up, and visit one of the schools where they screen episodes for their Planeteer kids’ club. In Los Angeles, Planeteers celebrated reaching 500,000 Facebook fans with some famous Planeteer “stars” like Ed Begley, Jr., Kath Soucie (the voice of Linka on the show), and Efren Ramirez (Ma-Ti in the “Funny or Die” spoof with Don Cheadle).

Planeteers in New York are preparing for the United Nations Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development in June. And the Atlanta Planeteers created a “Planeteer Rap+20” music video for the Rio+20 Global Rockstar Music Contest with lyrics by Nick Boxer, the Co-Executive Producer on the original series who created the series’ theme song.

On Sunday, April 22, Boomerang has programmed a 12-hour marathon of “Captain Planet and the Planeteers.” And, of course, we would love to see Cap trend on Twitter again!

The Planeteer Movement will celebrate Earth Day by kicking off a “Go Planet” campaign: By posting videos, Facebook statuses, Tweeting with the hashtag #GoPlanet, Planeteers worldwide will share their personal commitments to make the world a better place.

If social marketing is about building trust and advocacy, we are there. The Planeteers are always interested in strategic partnerships that add value, so I’d encourage anyone to join us—this is about creating a sustainable future, and that’s going to take a lot of combining our powers. Email us at: Partners@PlaneteerMovement.org.

Photo courtesy of Jim DeNuccio

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