When I grew up, the world was in growth mode. The opening of a new stretch of highway was celebrated by dignitaries. A new train was an event. Cities grew and built suburbs in an effort to attract more people, and the next 10,000 new citizens for the city were celebrated. New car models or features (“Now with seatbelts for all passengers!”) were launched by celebrities and made the news.
Advertising celebrated “faster” and “more” in everything. The consumption society was in full swing.
Humanity has always aimed for growth. The invention of the wheel, the steam train and boat, the airplane, the model T Ford, the telegraph and telephone are all milestones along the trend line of growth focused on “more” and “faster.”
But in today’s world, that sentiment is disappearing. Growth is still a thing, but the focus is shifting toward “smart” growth, sustainable growth, growth in diversity, etc.
I live in the South in the burbs of a progressive-ish city. The city is decidedly blue,while the surrounding areas, including my almost rural burb, is decidedly red. But even here, people revolted when a lithium mining company wanted to reopen a mine. Or when a developer proposed to build a Lagoon Beach Resort with thousands of homes and hotels.
Growth isn’t everything anymore. And my decidedly red burb is slowly converting to electric vehicles. Neighbors are buying electric Fords, Kias, Teslas and even Jeeps, and Amazon and Walmart deliver with EV vans.
Marketers should have their finger on the pulse of consumer sentiment. And consumers now clearly have a different view of growth. In advertising, faster and more is no longer the undercurrent of all messaging. Instead, “sustainable,” “healthy,” “safe,” “mindful” and “diverse” are the themes many advertisers use.
Do consumers believe our business cares about the environment? Do consumers care about the type of delivery van and packaging we use? Does how we treat our employees matter for the perception of our brand? The answer is of course: Yes, all these things matter.
Marketers and agencies should (and some do) think about the impact of their marketing efforts and advertising strategies on the environment or society. Mitigation efforts are actively made by some advertisers to offset the enormous energy amounts it takes to manufacture and distribute their products. Diversity is being successfully implemented throughout the pipeline. Even NASCAR and Formula 1 have pledged to become net zero, as F1 puts it, “from factory to flag.”
We are already seeing marketers evolving to new or additional metrics that go beyond the traditional business growth of share or size. Sustainability and DEI reports are becoming as common as annual business reports -- or are integrated in them.
But I believe we may be able to push even further. Why not include an environmental metric in your monthly media report? How much of your media was purchased or managed by green energy? How many of your ads were placed in diverse media, either in ownership or audience? How many of your events had successful recycling and clean-up efforts?
Growth will always be an important factor for success. But how we define growth will continue to evolve. And its definition is up to us.