Why green ads need their own proof points

Proof points - adland can save the world

The ad industry could with its own set of proof points to showcase leaders who are putting the planet first as they execute their clients’ briefs.

So says Garrett O’Reilly, managing director of media agency Hearts & Science, who has some stunning ideas that could be adopted across the industry…

Garrett O'Reilly
Garrett O’Reilly, MD Hearts & Science

Even coming from one of the oft-derided liberal advertising elites, the argument that ‘every ad should be a green ad’ isn’t really an argument any more.

It’s like saying any business, in any sector, should strive to be more sustainable and eco-friendlier if it wants to be successful and appeal to an increasingly eco-conscious audience of consumers. 

It’s not a naïve and idealistic assertion, it’s a simple statement of fact. Right now, there is a growing appreciation of our industry’s own carbon footprint. 

Even before the pandemic and the lockdowns, adland was coming around to the idea that flying overseas for a two-hour meeting or shooting an ad on the other side of the world with a huge crew was unnecessary and should be avoided. 

At this most basic definition, we realised that every ad should be a green ad.

In fact, the industry has begun to create platforms to back this new approach. The Advertising Association, in partnership with the IPA and ISBA, launched Ad Net Zero in November 2020 as “an industry-wide initiative to help UK advertising respond to the climate crisis”.

And it’s far from alone. AdGreen aims to measure advertising production carbon footprints and to empower the industry to reduce emissions. 

Change The Brief aims to help agencies respond to client briefs in a way that encourages the lifestyles and behaviours required to transition to a net zero emission society. Not to mention The Great Reset, a creative industry movement aiming to embed the positive environmental shifts that have happened during lockdown as the new normal.

They’re all a step in the right direction, but maybe we need even more. 

Create new proof points

We like our proof points in marketing. We like to tell our clients that if they say they’re doing something, they need to be able to back it up.

This is especially true when it comes to sustainability as no-one wants to suffer the reputational damage associated with ‘greenwashing’.

So perhaps we need a taste of our own medicine. What all the industry initiatives mentioned above have in common is that they’re requiring us to do what we say.

Maybe we need to go a step further still, and create measurable certifications that can be applied to the ads we make.

I for one would love to see categories at the Cannes Lions and other awards ceremonies that are specific to green ads and green ads alone.

Or a kitemark that tells audiences that the ad they’re seeing or hearing now was produced sustainably in line with measurable guidelines. 

Proof points in ads
Green ads: Campaigns that were created with eco sensitivity could have a kite mark informing consumers.

Growth and engagement are green too

Those awards would not be outliers, either. Good advertising does two things: it delivers business growth and it connects with people. That’s yet another reason why every ad – or at least every good ad – should be a green ad.

For one, green businesses will outperform non-green competitors. Mark Carney, former Governor of the Bank of England, has gone on record to say that firms ignoring the climate crisis will go bust. 

UN-funded research shows that carbon-intensive firms are likely to lose 43% of their value thanks to policies designed to combat climate change. That’s in the region of £800 billion wiped off the FTSE 100. 

The same research predicts progressive companies will gain 33% of their value due to the tailwinds in this area.

The second thing that good advertising does is connect with people – that could be on a deep and empathetic level or it can be a nudge towards a brand at just the right time.

At the same time, data points to the pandemic focusing the entire world’s attention on the climate crisis. 

A 2020 global survey by management consultancy firm Accenture said that consumers “have dramatically evolved”, and 60% were making more environmentally friendly, sustainable, or ethical purchases since the start of the pandemic. Nine out of ten said they’d continue in that vein.

Similarly, Kantar research last year noted that since Covid-19 sustainability was more of a concern for consumers than before the outbreak. 

proof points in ads
Product ads: Even consumers want to see sustainability in their favourite products.

If we ignore the groundswell of support towards green issues among consumers then we’re simply not doing our job properly as marketers, advertisers and agencies.

The future is in our hands

The majority of consumers believe brands play a more important role than governments in creating a better future. 

The fact the UK government has only been able to set aside £134 million to help the country “build back greener” post pandemic demonstrates why this is astute.

Moreover, this underlines advertising’s role in working with brand clients to help consumers adopt more sustainable behaviours. 

Marketers and agencies are in a privileged position as experts in communication and the business of influence, shaping new attitudes.

Our ads will be more effective, the more we reflect what consumers are already thinking and feeling about sustainability in our advertising and to normalise responsible behaviours for those who are yet to embrace green lifestyles. 

We owe it to our clients, CEOs and shareholders to future-proof our respective businesses by embracing this opportunity.

The global economy needs stability to thrive, from that perspective climate change stands as the business world’s greatest threat.

We all have to play our part, and actually advertisers have a bigger role than most. 

If consumers are to buy in to the messages we hope to embed, we cannot afford to be accused of hypocrisy.