Advertising is fueling the fire of the climate emergency

Advertising is fueling the fire of the climate emergency

“Hey Johnny, what are you rebelling against?” »The question comes in The wild. ” What do you have ? Johnny from Marlon Brando responds. Too often this is our response to customers and businesses in the communications industry. We love the action, we don’t care who it is for. But we should care about that, right? Scientists are united on the climate, our future colleagues are skipping school to demand action, even Rupert Murdoch’s media is looking to a carbon neutral future. Clearly, creative services for businesses – advertising, public relations, sales, media – provided without considering the impact of the job or the client company can fuel the fire of the climate emergency.

Industry research (WARC, 2019) has shown that creativity is a big multiplier for business results – up to 15 times – which is great if you’re talking about a government health program, from food to herbal or renewable energy. It’s far from good when it comes to fossil fuels, fast food and intensive agriculture. The top 20 Australian advertisers in 2020 included brands like Harvey Norman, Wesfarmers, McDonald’s and Amazon. This top 20 included many brands with heavy use in transportation, agriculture, energy and industrial processes. They are major contributors to our climate emissions in Australia according to CSIRO.

Many of these companies are big global concerns. They have big global agencies that don’t have a lot of local responsibilities and they know the angles to encourage people to buy more and buy without thinking too much. As masters of the abstract, we may have recorded the results of what we do in another place, time, or other people. Pew Research reports that 67% of Australians believe climate change is affecting them where they live today. Women do not have children for fear of the future. It is happening where you live and it is happening today.

The obvious answer is that this is a legal matter, and on top of that, we really appreciate what it entails: big TVs, burgers in an instant, and international vacations every year. I like this stuff too. But it’s still legal to be an asshole and too much of anything will kill us, as Joe Jackson explained.


While Australians are worried and want to act, agencies in particular seem to be playing dumb or simply unaware of their impact when working for harmful clients. Comms Declare, a local advocacy organization, recently released its report Fuel the fantasies on the attitudes and practices of our industry. To the survey, 103 of the top 200 agencies responded: almost eight in ten had worked with high-polluting clients in the past year (none had a clue of their client’s emissions); only four in ten had formal emission reduction policies and a similar amount could not account for their own emissions. Since our creativity is the X factor for businesses, it was striking that nine out of ten respondents under 30 in the industry thought climate was the most or one of the most important issues for them. all of us.

To be clear, this is not about the “agency” as a whole. We’re good people, but the precedent in many stores (“don’t ask, don’t tell”) and cultured blind spots affect us all. An easy way to progress is to ask each day and provide honest answers in a group forum to the following:

  • Is this work contributing to the climate emergency and if so can we step down now or gradually reduce our involvement and move people to other work?
  • Do I have a choice to work on this account and can I exercise it like I do for tobacco, alcohol or guns?
  • If I drop this job today, will another arrive in the next few days that will catch up with it and would I feel better about it?

In the old days, those with the biggest problems were the main cause of our help as an industry. But I didn’t sign up for it, did I? While today’s science is bleak and demands careful attention, our creative opportunity is not to look away but to look to emerging and newly established categories and brands that will serve us well today and in the future. decades. A briefing for another white goods or 4WD campaign isn’t exactly breaking new ground, but growing “meat” in a lab or turning the desert into salty into protein is something Lester, David, or Bill would come out of their way for. .

I know for sure I don’t want to look anyone in the eye for years to come and as Johnny says, “Maybe I could have stopped it sooner, but once the trouble was right I was just going with it. “

And you?

Warren Davies is the Managing Director of All or Nothing.

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