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Marketing for good

Marketers have a key role to play in the climate crisis. They need to drive behaviour change if we are to improve prospects for the planet.

According to Sir David Attenborough “saving our planet is now a communications challenge”. That’s a brief that should inspire the marketing and advertising industries.

But while both brands and agencies are taking steps to reduce their direct emissions, the bigger challenge is encouraging behaviour change in order to make a more meaningful impact on reducing carbon emissions.

Advertising has been identified as a contributing factor to unsustainable economic growth and encouraging a level of consumerism that has a direct impact on climate change. A recent study by sustainability specialists Purpose Disruptors and data analysts Magic Numbers estimates that between 2019 and 2022 emissions generated by advertising have risen by 11%, with advertising being responsible for 32% of the carbon footprint of every individual in the United Kingdom.

It doesn’t have to be this way and we have identified two key areas where marketers can really make a difference:

Consider where and how advertising appears

First, given the projected growth of global ad spend, expected to reach $740.9bn in 2023, it is imperative for marketers to reconsider where and how advertising appears.

Digital and programmatic advertising, which constitute nearly three quarters of global adspend, is a significant contributor to carbon emissions. This is largely due to the electricity required to power the servers that provide search results, news feeds, multiplayer games and more.

According to a recent estimate from Fifty-Five, a data-led marketing agency, a typical ad campaign for a single advertiser produces 323 tonnes of carbon dioxide, equivalent to 160 round trip flights between Paris and New York.

In addition, Ebiquity and Scope3 have calculated that 15% of all online global advertising provides no value to brands, often because it’s not actually seen by anyone.

There is already a movement towards more sustainable ad production, with brands such as Reckitt and Currys using virtual production studios and signing up to initiatives such as AdGreen, but improving the targeting of truly qualified audiences will not only yield a better ROI but also reduce the proportion of wasted impressions. A more targeted approach, using lighter output videos and investing in higher quality websites (such as legitimate news outlets) can deliver greater effectiveness, in brand safe environments and emit significantly less CO2e.

Inspire consumers to make more sustainable choices

Second, and perhaps the more difficult for brands to navigate, is the need to start inspiring consumers to make more sustainable choices. This requires brands to bring climate friendly, low-carbon products to market and encouraging consumers to purchase them. However, companies are often reluctant to lead as Bill Alberti, managing partner at Interbrand, says in a recent interview: “A lot of companies are scared to take the lead. They’re caught between being accused of greenwashing and being blamed for not doing enough.”

Ultimately ‘People, Planet and Profit’ are still the main drivers for brand action when tackling Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) issues, but encouraging consumers to feel more positive about the choices they make is going to be key to success.

If there is a clear correlation between brands making sustainable positive changes to their businesses and consumers responding to those changes, then the cycle will continue. Michaela Graci from Coley Porter Bell recently told Raconteur that “making people feel smart and positive about intelligent spending, mastering new upcycling skills, and positioning mindful consumption as a new status signal” will all form part of the industry’s contribution to the climate solution.

It is clear that the marketing and advertising industries have a pivot role to play in addressing the global climate crisis. Reducing direct emissions is the easy part but they also need to curb the temptation to encourage unsustainable economic growth.

Rethink strategies

Marketers need to rethink their strategies, particularly when it comes to digital advertising and focus on more targeted, sustainable approaches that not only deliver higher effectiveness but also emit significantly less CO2e.

At the same time, brands must take the lead in promoting mindful consumption, positioning it as a new “status symbol” and inspire consumers to make more sustainable choices. By doing so, they can drive positive change, creating a cycle of sustainable business practice and consumer demand.

If saving our planet is a communications challenge, then the marketing and advertising industries must rise to it if we are to build a more sustainable future for generations to come.

Marketing's role in tackling the climate crisis

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