Moving To The Front of the Deck
Just as ‘digital’ moved from the back of marketing decks to the front, the same will happen with sustainability.
Starting off working in ‘traditional advertising’ — TV and Print basically — and then moving to digital very early I have always kept an eye on the progression of digital. Let’s say around 2000 it would be one or two cursory pages at the back of a marketing pitch deck. It stayed that way for a long time — until Facebook became the dominant media force sometime after 2010. The switch was gradual, some people got it, others didn’t. I remember one lightbulb moment in 2007 when I was at Dare and we were working with Fallon on a Sony Vaio Laptop campaign with John Malkovich. Time with Mr M was — as you can imagine — at a premium, so Fallon presented their TV and Posters, we were told ‘if there was time’ (!) we could present our digital idea. Luckily there was five minutes at the end and we presented our idea of John writing the first scene to a movie, posting it on a site and having his fans write the next scenes. A crowdsourced film before the term was invented.
What was interesting was that Malkovich had shown absolutely no interest in the TV and press, it was standard stuff for him, but he suddenly got quite animated about our ‘digital’ idea. He could see it was different. I had the truly amazing job of going to see him in Paris — where he was directing a play — to hang out and talk scripts once a month. Talk about right place right time.
Of course that idea wasn’t really a digital idea. It was a creative idea that could only be delivered through a distributed mechanism — a digital website. Remember this is 2007, no facebook, just brand microsites and traffic driving banners.
Over the last five or six years I have seen the same thing happen with sustainability. Where there was once a few pages at the back of the deck, sustainability is now often the first idea.
There are so many different ways to look at the problem of the climate catastrophe. If you read something like Deep Adaptation, which makes the very strong scientific case that we are far too late to change the inevitable, then it’s hard to think that marketing can make any difference.
As my friend and total climate legend, Dan Burgess, says “There’s pain, confusion and challenge coming our way whether we like it or not.”
From a personal point of view I know categorically that the weather was different in the UK in 2008 than it is now. We moved to New York for 12 years. In that 12 years the weather changed. There were no sustained heat waves prior to 2008, the rain was more constant, less violent. Floods and winds were a rarity, not commonplace. The change is stark because for us it wasn’t gradual — just a simple ‘back then’ and now.
As always, it was Dan who promoted reading Deep Adaptaion as it was featured in the brilliant Backwash surf magazine. Packaging matters, would I have read that essay if it was just on a normal academic website, probably not, but featured in a cool magazine — sure. (Subscribe to his newsletter and podcast for very real analysis of what’s going on with our world.)
But consumption of products has been one of the major causes of harm to the planet so I do believe consumption — a radical rethink of what we consume, how we make it, how we market it, can be a big part of the solution.
Ethically you can make the arguement that we shouldn’t be presenting any ideas that are not solving the climate issue, but very few clients are ready for that. In the same way that very few clients were ready for digital in 2000. So we have to chip away. Solutions, just like ideas, can come from anywhere, so let’s not shut anything down, or shove them to the back of the deck.