If Greta Thunberg is right and the global climate summit has become nothing more than a “PR event,” then maybe it’s time the marketing communications industry take some ownership for it. And by that I don’t just mean spinning the story, but figuring out how to utilize the art and science of persuasion to change how people think, feel and behave about the climate.
It’s been ten years since the late University of Massachusetts professor David Lustick invited me to invite a group of Madison Avenue experts to meet with climate scientists to determine how marketing communications could play a role.
It has been nearly 11 years since Al Gore made a similar call-to-action at a MediaPost summit and during a private thought leadership dinner we held following it.
It’s been nearly 13 years since MediaPost published its “Carbon Issue” of MEDIA magazine, which among other things, pointed out that each copy of the 5.08-ounce print edition was the equivalent of 1.031 pounds of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere.
And not much has changed, except that climate change has become worse.
Over the past few weeks leading up the climate summit, which wraps up in Glasgow this week, I’ve gotten a number of pitches dimensionalizing the impact advertising and media have on climate change -- including one from Good-Loop, developer of the “green ad tag,” estimating the average online ad campaign emits 5.4 tons of CO2.
And if you think that’s a big number, think about how many online ad campaigns there actually are. According to the Interactive Advertising Bureau, there are more than 10 million digital advertisers worldwide, so if each them only runs one campaign per year, well, you do the math.
In fact, a recent column in The Guardian made a compelling case that the ad industry is actually “fueling climate disaster, and it’s getting away with it.”
The column does not focus on advertising’s direct contribution to carbon emissions per se, but an even greater paradox of contributing to “overconsumption,” which leads to exponential amounts of carbon.
Don’t get me wrong, the ad industry has begun to change. At the very least it is now talking the right game, and increasingly, even doing it. Most of the big agencies have either begun or pledged to begin becoming net-neutral carbon organizations, at least internally.
And there are some amazing stories -- especially some of the winners of this year’s Cannes Lions -- about campaigns that are fueling renewable energy and other products and services that will sustain the planet.
The problem is they are just drops in the carbon bucket, and as Greta notes, often nothing more than a little bit of PR.
What Madison Avenue needs is a good organized collective initiative to tackle the problem, not one-offs and press releases. Something on the magnitude of the change and commitment it has made to social equity, inclusion and diversity and/or the concepts of "brand safety" and "brand purpose."