Is it time for Adland to get on “the right side of history?”

Is it time for Adland to get on “the right side of history?”

In the week when BP has been accused of ‘greenwashing’ over promises to shrink its carbon footprint to “net zero” by 2050 and Extinction Rebellion activists caused disruption at London Fashion Week, there are new calls for advertising and marketing to become more sustainable – by refusing to work with “toxic” clients.

In his new book, ‘Influencers and Revolutionaries’, research and strategy consultant Sean Pillot de Chenecey looks at how key drivers such as the environmental crisis, new technologies, unforeseen competitors and unpredictable consumers are disrupting many industry sectors, including advertising.

His chief advice to the advertising industry is to take a stand and refuse to work on accounts with a high carbon footprint – an issue over which he says there has been “enormous inertia” to date in marketing.

“The right side of history”

Sean says, “Moral neutrality in the climate emergency is not an option. This is an opportunity for the whole marketing industry to get on the right side of history.”

He is calling on agency personnel to collaborate and act on a union-like basis. He suggests creatives, planners, strategists and other agency staff should let agency management know they refuse to work on what he describes as “toxic accounts”.

Sean Pillot De Chenecey

Rebooting the industry

Not only does he argue this is the morally right position but that it will also benefit the industry. At a time when, he says, “the advertising industry is full of self-loathing”, a refusal to support unsustainable clients could also improve ad industry morale.

He says, “The industry has been on the back foot for a long time following the impact of the downturn. So the industry needs a reboot. Taking a stand like this would make people feel a lot better and give them a new purpose.

“Agencies talk non-stop about brand purpose but never in the context of themselves. This is a brilliant way to do this.”

One of the key arguments in his book is that ever declining trust in advertising would also be addressed by altering course.

The new tobacco?

A strong supporter of the Extinction Rebellion group, during his 20-year career Sean worked briefly on anti-tobacco accounts in the USA. He believes that just as the industry took a moral stance over tobacco, it should do the same with companies like BP, and refuse to service them.

One of the other key issues faced by the marketing industry in the climate emergency is the existential question of its purpose – should it be promoting consumption when this is the lifestyle that has contributed to the global environmental disaster we face?

Sean argues that the considerable persuasive skills of the industry could be better used in helping to tackle the climate emergency and by aligning itself with the growth of ethical consumption.

“From the agency point of view, it is a billion dollar persuasion machine that is great at promoting consumption. On the other side, it is providing a veneer of branding, promoting a high-carbon lifestyle and hyper-consumption, which is diametrically opposed to what it should be doing,” he says.

Actions for Adland

The steps he would urge Adland to take include:

  • Join #CreativesForClimateChange, an industry group pledged to refuse to work on high-carbon accounts
  • Apply for B Corp certification.

He also urges the industry to think deeply about the need for action.

“Every marketer, every brand in every sector, and every client and agency has the ability to take professional and personal action. The climate emergency is not going away and we all have to look ourselves in the mirror,” he says.