‘Before the Flood’ Review: Going Viral Before TV Debut

After a few years of static buzz on the matter, climate change is back on our feeds. This time around, Leonardo DiCaprio is directing the conversation with National Geographic.

He narrates a documentary – with an IMDb rating of 8.4/10 and a cast lineup including Elon Musk, President Obama and Pope Francis – that culminates in a straightforward CTA: “Learn more and take action at:”.


Know your audience, know your audience, know your audience is one of the key mantras of any marketer. Whether or not you are an avid TV consumer, it’s worth noting that ‘Before the Flood’ hit over 15M views on Facebook and 8M views on YouTube. This could be attributed to the fact that National Geographic was able to leverage the presence of its viewers on digital by rolling out the documentary online. This strategy aligns with the holistic campaign’s aim to facilitate proactive action through maximized reach.

The core message of the documentary transcends the audiences of National Geographic. It is a message potentially targeted to every human being in an attempt to awaken our innate concern regarding the future of our planet. The message was embodied in a tone of pleading and delivered by a charismatic messenger with high influence. These two elements paved the way for its viral path.

Credit: National Geographic


Climate change is an overwhelming issue. After watching a whole production highlighting the actual and potential consequences of global warming, it would be normal to feel paradoxically empowered and powerless. However, the documentary outlines a road map for change and its website actually provides visitors with a one-step tool to make an impact – a hashtag.

As simple as that, a hashtag that drives action.

National Geographic and 21st Century Fox vow to donate $1 to Pristine Seas and $1 to the Wildlife Conservation Society for every use of #BeforeTheFlood on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. They capped the donations at $50,000 per organization, translating into 100,000 mentions of the hashtag.


From a communications standpoint, the #BeforeTheFlood campaign can be flagged as a successful case study of storytelling. Content drives action. Dissect this rule of thumb and you can trace the trajectory drawn by the campaign: Relevant content, compelling messenger, simple plan of action.

If you scroll down beyond the landing point of the ‘Take Action’ tab, you will encounter two prominent Take Action buttons. These are part of two of the main pleads in the documentary. They allow site visitors to act upon their urge to make an impact.  

And below these two grids, there is a collection of hyperlinked photos that redirect viewers to external websites where they can sign petitions and join movements by #BeforeTheFlood partners.

‘Before the Flood’ is the tangible product of a three-year journey by Leonardo DiCaprio. Fueled by a self-proclaimed pessimistic outlook on climate change, the Academy Award-winning actor, environmental activist, and UN Messenger of Peace allows viewers to shadow him through his investigative talks with world leaders and specialists — making it an immersive experience.

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