At surface level, marketing is the art of persuading consumers to choose a particular product or service rather than their competitors. Marketing professionals are experts in communicating in a convincing manner and, perhaps unfortunately, reinforcing consumerist culture. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Why can’t we use those same skills to shift the focus to a different kind of messaging?
According to the UN’s NDC Global Outlook Report 2019, 112 nations are currently revising their climate plans – but it’s actually Western European nations that are planning to make the least number of positive changes. In reports like these, it’s easy to get lost amongst facts, figures and complex concepts without really understanding what’s being said. Regardless of the type of media, consumers don’t want to have to work to understand what you’re selling to them – they respond best if it’s translated into simple terms.
Distilling information is a marketing pro’s speciality, although at some point along the line we started simply associating terms like ‘climate change’ with images of a polar bear standing on a melting iceberg or a sea turtle enveloped in discarded plastic packaging. If we’re to make a difference, we need to bridge the gap between this and the statistics. We need to show them something new and tell people how they can help.
Earlier this year, global environmental movement Extinction Rebellion penned an open letter to the advertising industry, asking industry leaders to ‘declare a climate & ecological emergency and act accordingly’. In other words, to use their ability to shift mass behaviour for the greater good – a message that should also resonate with anyone working within the communications industries. Unsurprisingly, Extinction Rebellion are practising what they preach. If you’ve seen their latest publicity stunt – a house sinking into the Thames – then you have to agree, they know how to execute a successful campaign.
In the US, CEOs at some of the largest media and marketing companies have united to sign ‘The Future is Calling’, a public pledge to contribute their creative talent to awaken the world to the climate crisis. Participants include the likes of Jack Dorsey, Co-Founder and CEO at Twitter, and David Kenny, CEO and Chief Diversity Officer at Nielson. We’re yet to see something like this in the UK – but it could be exactly what we need.
International brands like Burger King are also beginning to take more drastic (but necessary) action. In September, Burger King’s ‘The Meltdown’ campaign saw all of the restaurant’s free plastic toys removed from children’s meals and melted down to make a giant statue. The multimedia campaign spread through restaurants, homes, the media and social media, giving Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Fernando Merchado plenty of opportunities to announce plans to offer only biodegradable toys by 2025.
Sometimes, it can be the most unexpected brands that pave the way for societal change. Burger King’s campaign is just one example of how a small change for the consumer can have a huge impact on a larger scale – and that’s exactly what’s needed. As declared in the Global Development Report, businesses must be at the heart of change, and ‘it’s clear that business as usual simply isn’t good enough anymore’.