I would probably have written this column about the new series of Mad Men, which began the other night, but I still haven’t seen it yet - a bit too busy this week. (I’ve got it on Sky Plus so don’t tell me what happens.) So failing that I’ll need to fall back on talking about something I found on the internet instead.
I was directed towards a powerful new blog called conservation-economy.org, whose array of talented contributors are discussing the most pressing issue at the heart of our profession today, no not Don Draper’s drinking habits, rather what role will advertising and marketing play in rapidly changing our consumption habits.
It would be lovely to think that we can consume our way to a better more sustainable way of life, however the meager efforts on display to date are often not much more than greenwash, and even high-profile efforts such as Plan A from M&S are really only fiddling around the edges in the grand scheme of things.
The simple fact is we don’t have enough time to rely on advertising and marketing to turn us on to the latest hip new low-carb, low-carbon alternative.
For every brief for a new low energy, less packaged, low impact product that lands on our desks, I’m assuming the other dozen we get will be for me-too products, faster service, cheaper price. As Justin Basani points out in his post “We’ve been used to selling more stuff, the future will be about selling less stuff.”
Jonathan Wise in the same blog highlights a TED talk from Jason Clay of the WWF who urges us to ‘apply pressure where you can have the greatest effect’. His argument is that it’s probably more sensible to focus our efforts on convincing the top 100 commodity producers and suppliers to extract their wares in a sustainable fashion in the first place, rather than attempt to convince 6 billion consumers to shop ethically.
"Why leave it to product choice, when all products should be sustainable from the start?"
Which leaves us with a dilemma. Does advertising continue on its present course, assuming someone else will sort out the problem for us, or does it seize its chance to lead on the ultimate issue, to gain credibility that might see us taken seriously around the boardroom table again, rather than continue to be seen as an increasingly peripheral activity.
Token efforts on the occasional brief won’t outweigh the tide of business as usual and the longer we delay in making this the central focus of our efforts, the less likely it is that our profession will be able to become part of the solution rather than just part of the problem. Are we going to wait for the future to arrive, or do we go out and create it?
(A version of this post first appeared in Campaign Magazine.)
p.s. a couple of people I spoke to thought that Campaign was the wrong place for an article like this to appear as advertising readership might not want to hear this - what do you think?