How the ad industry can save the world according to WPP, Comic Relief US and Twitter execs

How the ad industry can save the world according to WPP, Comic Relief US and Twitter execs

There is no denying that the discussion around climate change is gathering pace rapidly across society, and things reached new heights this August, with climate strikes being conducted around the world.

In September, at the same time as the 74th session of the UN General Assembly was outlining its annual global goals, The Drum Arms was hosting its final session of a two-day pop up in Manhattan. The event saw a dynamic group of advertising, charity and business chiefs discuss the ways in which the advertising industry can make a difference in the face of irreversible climate change.

The 'How Can Advertising Save the World?' session heard from Comic Relief USA’s new chief executive Alison Moore; Laurent Ezekiel, the chief marketing and growth officer for WPP; Alex Josephson, Twitter’s head of global brand strategy; Chris Gorell Barnes, the founder and chief executive of Adjust Your Set and co-founder of Blue Marine Foundation; and Louis Lagoutte, Europe's brand director of One Tree Planted.

Each panelist was invited to offer their unique viewpoint on the role of the advertising industry in tackling the current climate crisis. Ezekiel began by explaining WPP’s sustainability initiative that was announced earlier this year. He said that the banning of single-use plastic within the global advertising agency business was only the start of the measures being taken by the company to cut back on its global impact.

Moore, who was just over two weeks into her role at Comic Relief, spoke about the work that could be done to assist children in America and Africa and how the charity plans to move forward. Meanwhile, Barnes, who had addressed the UN earlier in the week, was on hand to add his views on the practical steps all businesses could take in making a positive impact.

As the hour-long discussion drew to a close, each participant offered an example of advertising work that was proving to make a difference. The panel was also asked to offer a piece of advice to the audience as to how the advertising sector can deliver positive change in the future.

Lagoutte, who also attended the UN Week sessions, works with a company that plants trees on behalf of businesses that are aiming to offset their environmental impact. He offered: “It is important for companies in the advertising industry to look at what kind of products they are promoting. Are they promoting products that are made using palm oil and that are destroying rain forests in Indonesia? Are they promoting seafood products that are destroying the ocean?

"And if they are, then it is exacerbating some of the world’s problems and it is helping sell more of those products, increasing the impact with these negative practices. For some clients, for some products, maybe it’s time the advertising industry took a long, hard look at itself and thinks that maybe it shouldn’t be promoting some things.”

Josephson was mindful of how communications could impact the discussion of a campaign message aiming to achieve a purpose: “We deal with marketers all the time and encourage them to demonstrate what they say they do. The easy thing to do is to come out and try and associate your brand with a cause and good intentions, and the reality is that unless you are making some sacrifice and being impactful around that cause and you are doing that in a meaningful way, but you must be aware of the environment you are communicating within in doing that.”

Moore’s views concentrated on the creative abilities of the advertising sector which does a great deal of pro-bono work for campaigns around the world: “We have seen some of the most amazing answers to helping people wrap their heads around the problems and in order to win people’s hearts and minds. It comes from creative minds and people who have a kind of gift to translate what is a very difficult or sensitive thing in a way that makes an impact.

"Companies that are non-profits don’t have the ability to tap the resources to do that but that work, when it’s done, is hugely powerful and can be amplified and shared through digital channels more widely through crazy media buys - which can be very powerful.”

Ezekiel highlighted the power of WPP alone which has 76 of the FTSE 100 on its books. "If we just have that conversation with each of those we could make a profound difference just there. Imagine that impact if it involved the rest of the industry,” stated Ezekiel, who has two degrees in sustainability and is passionate about driving the environmental initiative introduced by WPP chief Mark Read at the start of the year.

“Stop talking and take action,” added Barnes, who proceeded to outline the three things he saw as being crucial for the advertising industry to adopt, in order to really make a marked difference: “Fly less and encourage all of your clients to do less traveling, which would make a tangible difference. Eat less meat – the biggest carbon emitter is the agricultural industry. Thirdly, plant trees and restore nature because the industry could make a tangible difference and then ask other industries to do the same.”

Barnes outlined his experience of speaking at the United Nations earlier in that week in a piece written exclusively for The Drum. Meanwhile, nominations for The Drum’s Social Purpose Awards will be announced for this year later this month.

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