How to solve climate change's branding problem

Climate Change needs to be rebranded / Photo by Bob Blob on Unsplash

‘Global Warming’. ‘Climate Change’. So what?

For a country so notorious for bad weather, these terms sound rather lovely. I know people who genuinely think warming is a good thing. After all, who wouldn't want our chilly little island to be a bit warmer? Climate change is just a vague, wet lettuce. All very inadequate.

Over in the US, meanwhile, inappropriately gentle terms like ‘Global Warming’ give president Trump and his climate science denying ilk license to tweet things like "Please come back global warming, we need you” whenever the country hits a cold front.

So it’s clear the branding needs a radical overhaul.

As an industry that has the power to shift attitudes, we need to help rebrand the way the world discusses climate crisis. The Guardian has announced it’s changing the language it uses about the environment, asking writers to swap existing terms like ‘Global Warming’ for more accurate nomenclature like ‘Global Heating’. And now it’s our turn. Adland must follow suit. We too must support the progressives by using appropriately scary climate terminology in our own comms.

We need to make the destruction of our planet’s ecosystems sound absolutely terrifying, the solution achievable and the participation in that solution mandatory. The language that currently dominates all too often sounds lovely or the solution sounds like bloody hard work that’s someone else's problem for 99.9% of the population. It would be a lot easier if we were more like ants.

Getting the world’s entire population to tackle the biggest planetary disaster since a meteor wiped out the dinosaurs and 76% of all life requires a lot more oomph than a mere name change. But this is where ad land can truly step up and address the issues raised in the recent open letter from Extinction Rebellion (that collective of whip-smart activists who, because they are branded as troublemakers and social outcasts, also neatly demonstrate the climate crisis branding problem).

Our industry is about so much more than words. We are masters of persuasive visual communication but, as yet, we haven’t really turned this skill on to the world’s climate emergency. So in addition to rebranding through updated terminology, we also need to look at the emergency’s aesthetic branding. In the same way that Allied and Nazi propaganda posters used arresting imagery to get people on board, we need to dial up how we visually communicate the crisis.

In fact, there are many similarities between a world at war and a world in climate crisis. During WWII, the public was cajoled into enlisting and encouraged to recycle, ration, reuse, save fuel, grow their own food and cut back on waste: a mammoth (and eerily familiar) comms task that put the onus on each individual to do their duty for their country. Nearly 75 years on, we need a new visual call-to-arms on a scale unseen since WWII that makes individuals do their bit for their planet. Ad land needs to use all its collective power of persuasion to ensure climate crisis is the enemy while celebrating the heroes who stand against it.

Although talking about this emergency from a WWII perspective feels apt, some may find it trivial to take a branding point of view. But like it or not, ‘Global Warming’ and its limp cousin ‘climate change’ are brands that makes Blockbusters, BHS and Toys R Us look positively fit-for-purpose in comparison.

So, although lots of agencies – mine included – often use their amazing ideas to help solve serious problems, rather than sell more unnecessary stuff, we also need to go back to basics: effective strategy is not just about creativity, it’s also about core branding and simple, unified purpose.

Nowhere is this truer than ‘climate crisis’.

By David Gamble, founder and executive creative director of Truant London

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