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Marketing and Comms
When We Look at the Future of Our Industry, We All Lost in Cannes

If we are to safeguard advertising’s legitimacy, we must address our image problem. It’s time we apply our collective creativity to solve our (industry’s) biggest challenges.

Cannes Lions is without doubt the most important meeting place and a powerful force for change in the advertising industry. How we use this opportunity matters.

It’s the Davos of advertising; so how do we want to show up in the world? What can we achieve if we act together? If we dare to dream big? If we apply that creative force we love to celebrate? What world could we envision our children to live in?

Two weeks before Cannes, UN Secretary General António Guterres warned that we are “on a climate highway to hell” and that our industry should immediately stop fossil-fuel advertising. He applauded our action against cigarettes decades before to showcase how we can come together.

Cannes Lions did put the non-profit Clean Creatives, which is leading the industry movement away from fossil-fuel advertising, on stage — an endorsement of the validity of its message after years of its disruptions of the event from the sidelines. Yet, what could have been a progressive move from Cannes Lions if delivered years earlier now seems like low-hanging fruit, rather than real leadership.

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As an industry, we are beginning a concerted effort to measure and reduce our carbon footprint. We can do this. Yet, our real impact comes from the nearly US$1 trillion advertising spend — as Purpose Disruptors and others have highlighted as advertised emissions. Does your ad spend or campaign help decrease or increase emissions?

The bumpy road to climate-friendlier living

Let me give you an example from a country often viewed as "green": Denmark. On a good day, when the wind is blowing, Denmark produces more renewable energy from wind than is needed; yet, the average carbon footprint per citizen is 13 tons. If we as global citizens are to stay within the 1.5°C scenario needed to avoid the most dangerous effects of climate change, the footprint should stay below 2.5 tons — even in a country powered by wind energy, our footprint is too high.

Doconomy’s multi-award-winning, 2019 "Do Black" campaign used science to show ordinary people how to cut down on their carbon emissions by showing them their carbon footprint of their spending habits. It worked; and recently, Doconomy secured +US$35M in funding to continue scaling its impacts. Again, a win-win.

So, why aren’t more of us using our creative talents to help people understand the impacts of their shopping habits and lifestyles? In Denmark, like the rest of the Global North, people are buying too much stuff — or simply too climate-heavy stuff such as fast fashion, fast furniture and cheap weekend flights. In Europe, the supermarkets are in an out-of-control discount war, where everyone will lose — from the supermarkets themselves to the farmers and other suppliers who can’t make a living.

Let me be clear, it is possible to live very well without hurting the planet. People simply need guidance.

A fight for less bad

One of this year’s winning campaigns — “The Move to -15” by shipping company DP World — challenged the industry-standard practice of shipping frozen food around the world at -18°C; and, armed with novel research, proved that -15°C is not only safe but saves money, energy and up to 17.7m tons of emissions per year. DP World encouraged others in the industry to follow and now 60 percent of all shipping has made the switch — another win-win.

As an industry, we can help invent and inspire those carbon-clever choices without hurting our bottom line. What products or services are our industry willing to advertise? What if we labelled bad products instead of the good ones and asked the polluters to pay? What if we established a carbon baseline for every product category — and if a product exceeds the limit, we don’t advertise it?

No accountability, no consequences

If we are to attract future talent and safeguard our industry’s legitimacy, we must address our image problem. We are not lawyers or doctors, where we can lose our licence. Yet, the impact we have on people’s behaviours, habits, self-esteem, dreams and aspirations are unquestionable. Maybe we should implement a code of conduct? Or kick out bad players? What happened to the days where every ad had the name of the agency in the upper right-hand corner? That was accountability. We need to be proud about working in advertising — how can we be that without any responsibility or accountability?

Your creativity is desperately needed

In 1959, one of Volvo’s engineers, Nils Bohlin, invented the three-point seatbelt — which we all use today. Yet, Volvo believed it was too important an innovation to patent and keep — and instead shared it with the global car industry.

Time is running out. The critical voices against our industry — from legislators to people on the street — are gaining in strength. We can react — or maybe it’s time we act together and apply our creativity to solve our (industry’s) biggest challenges.