Extinction Rebellion, the activist group that brought swathes of London to a standstill in April, now has the ad industry in its sights. It has today issued an open letter to advertisers and their agencies urging them to use their powers of persuasion to tackle the global climate and ecological emergency.
The letter author – a prominent player inside Extinction Rebellion and a former ad exec – spoke to The Drum on the condition of anonymity. They boast decades of experience in advertising and warned they will know and act if the letter falls on deaf ears.
The activist said: "This letter was written by members of Extinction Rebellion who have many years experience within the advertising industry, including senior roles at well-known agencies, so really can't be fobbed off. Though this letter is addressed to industry leaders, we sincerely hope to engage with everyone working in advertising."
Extinction Rebellion is mobilising like-minded marketers, creatives and comms staff to act on behalf of brands, drive sustainable efforts and cut down on waste that is destroying the natural world. According to the UN, we only have 12 years left to limit climate change disaster.
The movement includes people from a broad range of background and counts a spine of marketers among their number. It has urged the public to adopt a “civil resistance model” styled in the tradition of Gandhi and Martin Luther King.
Last month Extinction Rebellion organised 11 days of marches and disruption across London, targeting the seats of power such as the stock exchange and parliament. Activist teenager Greta Thunberg and UN ambassador and actor Emma Thompson attended the protests.
Then the group made three demands, first that the government declares a climate "emergency". Secondly that it creates legally binding policies to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2025 and the builds a citizens' assembly to "oversee the changes".
Now it turns its attention to the advertising industry to inspire change in corporate messaging and action.
Dear Founders, CEOs, CCOs, CMOs, CFOs, MDs and CDs of the advertising industry,
You didn’t think we’d forget about you?
We know you like things simple so here they are:
We’re not on the verge of the Sixth Mass Extinction. We’re in it.
If everything on the planet dies, we die.
That’s not a distant future. We are only a few years away from an irreversible temperature climb, although biodiversity destruction may get us first.
“What can I do?” you’re thinking. “I’m just the Founder/CEO/CMO/CCO/CFO/MD/CD of a global advertising agency.”
The answer is: you can do anything you want and you can shift mass behavior in a heartbeat. One of the reasons we’ve got here is because you’ve been selling things to people that they don’t need. You are the manipulators and architects of that consumerist frenzy. Imagine what would happen if you devoted those skills to something better.
No, making a small campaign to give up drinking from plastic straws is not going to cut it.
Neither is doing some pro-bono for an anti-palm oil initiative.
Here’s the thing you can do:
Declare a climate & ecological emergency and act accordingly. Persuade your clients and their audiences to do the same.
If you don’t make this change, consumers will insist you do. Look at the streets of London in the last month. People are beginning to see where the problems lie, and soon they will see you.
You have an extraordinary moment to be on the right side of history. That’s not something that can get postponed to Q3. It needs action right now.
Just Do It.
Be All That You Can Be.
Impossible Is Nothing.
We’re here to support you in this vital transition.
Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Below is footage from the group's Waterloo protest. The activist urged that similar disruption could be focused on the advertisers if they fail to change their ways.