See What Happens When Kids Bully a Plant

A windowsill with several varied houseplants in small pots on a wood surface

Getty / Sara Monika

Because plants are people too?

From the "Someone please do a real study of this" department, IKEA creates a video that has all the feels, but maybe not so much science.

The Swedish company's UAE division worked with ad agency Memac Ogilvy Dubai to create a feel-good inspirational marketing video (complete with feel-good inspirational marketing video music) to support the company's #SayNoToBullying campaign.

Then they went and started bullying a plant.

"Plants have feelings, just like people. So, what happens when you feed one plant with compliments and another with negative remarks?" the company asks.

Bullying Awareness

Calling it a "social experiment to raise awareness on the effects of bullying," the team took two Dracaena plants from one of their stores and set them up at a school. They asked some of the children to help record voice recording loops, half with compliments, half with mean things – the tapes were then played for the plants over the course of 30 days.

Both plants otherwise received the same care; the same water, light, and fertilizer. But while one was lauded, the other was subjected to verbal abuse.

You know where this is going, right? The complimented plant flourished, the bullied plant withered.

Marketing Trick or Real Science?

So, me, being a person who anthropomorphizes plants to no end – and despises bullying – of course, adores this. But for me, who loves science and proper scientific protocol, is left thinking, "pseudo-science? anecdotal? coincidence? hoax?!" If nothing else, why should we think that plants can understand English?

Now there has been plenty of research suggesting that plants are much more aware of things than we think – and we all know that talking to plants helps them thrive, right? Plants sense things in a number of ways; could the bullying victim sense that the harsh tone of the words was a threat? But the kids weren't really speaking with malice, just saying the words. So what gives? Is this all just a marketing trick??

Also feeling skeptical about it all, David Griner at Adweek reached out to the ad agency to confirm that the plants truly did receive the same amount of light, water, and nourishment. He writes:

We heard back from a creative at Ogilvy Dubai who reaffirmed that it was a legitimate project with both plants being treated the same except for the verbal messages. She says the agency is getting “a lot of questions” about the project and admits she was “quite impressed when I saw the results.”

Still, it would have been a risky experiment to try unless they were sure what the results would be or unless it was somehow rigged, because "hey kids, nothing happened to the plant when we abused it" would not have been a very enlightening lesson. Regardless, I am sure the students took a lot away from this – and I know that I, for one, am on #TeamDon'tBullyPlants. Now if only we could get a legitimate study going for this, we could settle it once and for all. The only problem is, then we'd have to bully more plants.

Via IKEA hackers