11 signs ahead advertising is ready to reckon with fossil fuels | Publicity
Over the past three decades, only five major oil companies have spent at least $ 3.6 billion (£ 2.5 billion) on advertising specifically to brand themselves as part of the solution to the climate crisis.
However, you rarely see the agencies that created this work recognize it – let alone celebrate it. Today, Shell is running its #MakeTheFuture multiplatform campaign with what must be a nice budget. But, according to the agency’s executives cited in the Countryside Characteristically, no reputable agency would take this type of work with oil, coal and gas clients anymore – right?
I’m calling bullshit. The Clean Creatives industry insider group offers exit agencies that keep their work with fossil fuel clients a secret. They revealed that the same agencies touting their climate awareness are currently making money in the most destructive industries.
This is nothing new for those who actually work in the industry. We have all heard the excuses for accepting the fossil fuel dossier: “But this is a campaign to go green”; “Fossil fuels should be part of the solution”; “Most of our clients commit to net zero”; “We compensate for creation”. Blah blah blah. Few people are fooled by the real motivation – we wanted the money.
What will it really take for the business model change to sweep our industry? After two decades of working with multiple industries on their sometimes painful sustainability transitions, I know it’s going to take a lot of pressure. Fortunately, for all of our futures, this pressure is increasing almost as fast as carbon in the atmosphere.
In the coming months, I expect to see:
1. A wave of cities banning fossil fuel ads
The city of Amsterdam recently banned advertising of fossil fuels – including fossil fuel vehicles like cars and theft – from its city center and metro stations. A wave of cities will likely follow, and perhaps networks of green cities will announce blanket bans at COP26 this year.
2. Large clients will demand information from agencies about “climate conflicts”
The juiciest FMCG clients will soon be demanding that creative agencies reveal how much of their income comes from fossil fuel companies. The standard is Creative Climate Disclosure, which requires signatories to disclose the percentage of their revenue coming from high carbon clients.
3. Activists will be more and more direct
Groups like Extinction Rebellion and Fridays For Future will ensure protest signs line the glass entrances of agencies that continue to work for the oil and gas industry. Planning for WhatsApp has started.
4. Legislation will tackle greenwashing
Continuing outrage over advertising by fossil fuel companies will prompt President Joe Biden and European leaders to set transparency standards for advertising and public relations that will make greenwashing riskier and more costly for oil and gas companies. Lawyers are already calling for tobacco-like health warnings on advertisements from fossil fuel companies.
5. The first big advertising agency will say no to big oil …
Taking the example of specialized companies and responding to the pressure of their talents, a large advertising agency will publicly commit to refusing any briefing from the fossil fuel industry.
6.… and others will follow quickly
It will be a mad rush, with latecomers becoming industry scapegoats.
7. Rewards will require honesty
As a judge for this year’s Cannes Lions, I’m already pushing for more honesty on gender pay gaps (for gender equality awards) and climate conflict (for awards on gender). climate action). The most responsible award bodies will likely soon only be accepting applications / submissions from agencies that disclose their full client lists – fossil fuels and all.
8. The first major market will ban fossil fuel ads
After banning oil and gas ads in some cities, one country – most likely in the EU – will be the first to impose a nationwide ban. I’m betting on France, where a ban has already been proposed.
9. Agencies will be sued – and lose
If Publicis can be sued for fueling the opioid crisis, then your agency can be sued for fueling climate change.
Young activists are already preparing civil suits against advertising agencies, which will be found guilty for their role in promoting fossil fuels. While advertising companies have spent years competing to prove their “effectiveness” to customers and claim increased sales, it will be fun to see the same companies attempt to dismiss their own effectiveness.
10. Insurance costs for agencies working for fossil fuel companies will drop
Seeing the increase in legal risks, insurance companies will increase indemnification insurance costs for agencies that continue to work on oil and gas company cases. Why? See previous point.
11. The tipping point will come when there is more money to be made by selling solutions than by selling destruction.
Let’s be frank, for too many agency heads reading this, points 1-10 above will sound more like a threat than a promise. But I promise you point 11 is the only business plan worth pursuing (and the only one your kids will thank you for).
Solitaire Townsend is co-founder of Futerra Sustainability Communications and judge for Cannes Lions 2021