Do you practice environmentally friendly advertising?

If someone looked at your media plan and asked: “How environmentally friendly is this?” how would you respond? The reality is even the most experienced planners would be completely unprepared for such a question. However, the current high-profile green movement – from the extinction rebellion to the meteoric rise of veganism – shows this zeitgeist isn’t a fad and once mass market behaviours change there is an inevitable impact across everything, even marketing.

Historically high-profile brands have made token gestures with environmental partnerships, reduced packaging and ethically manufactured product ranges. This is because to date their driving motivation has been to improve brand perception, but things are going to start becoming far more business critical. Whilst price and convenience are still the most important influences on a purchase decision, brand behaviour is an increasing contributing factor that organisations ignore at their peril.

So, what about the media landscape? Well as an agency we are seeing more questions about our organisation’s policies on environmental initiatives and corporate social responsibility in pitch RFI processes than ever before. However, to date we haven’t seen a client rule out channels such as press, direct mail or inserts because of their high carbon footprint, so what needs to change before marketers start being seriously influenced by the environmental impact of campaign ideas?

There has been lots of talk about how the role of the CMO has changed and how the marketing director’s skillset has diversified in recent years, but at the very heart of all those changes has been the vast quantity of data available to them that allows them to make informed decisions. The fact is that all the data shows response rates to less environmentally friendly channels are still strong within lots of audience segments, and the use of these channels is not negatively impacting brand perception. Therefore, the status quo remains and marketing teams continue to allocate their budgets based on performance rather than other factors.

In recent history print publishers have been boycotted by brands as part of the Stop Funding Hate movement, brands have been blocked by media owners in gambling and payday loan sectors and consumers have turned their backs on others in protest against for tax evasion and inequality, so there is a track record of consumers bringing about real change.

In each case a small but highly passionate audience of advocates gained traction in mass culture to build sizeable supporter bases that brands and governments couldn’t ignore. We are clearly at the start of a generational movement that is starting to become increasingly mainstream. We are building up to a tipping point where environmental impact becomes an increasingly important part of brand perception and loyalty and will therefore start affecting organisations’ bottom line, and as always this is the point at which they will sit up and take notice.

At the end of March a vote passed in EU parliament which means in 2021 single use cutlery plastic will become banned under law. This will likely be followed by an increasing range of single use products being outlawed and whilst plastic will be the initial focus all non-recyclable production will be scrutinised.

So, basically you don’t NEED to change anything. You can ignore the thousands marching across London. You can continue to take advantage of low-cost high gloss inserts, cheaply produced tube car panels and amazing value last minute press placements. However, in the next few years your audience may rebel against your use of such comms channels, so my advice would be to get ahead of the game now. Start asking the right questions around production sources and the recyclability of materials. Become a pioneer in environmentally responsible advertising and I am confident you will be rewarded in the long run.

by Ben Foster, Director of Digital