COP28 has officially arrived. With it, the critical debate on how to reach global Net Zero targets.
While a third of the world’s largest companies have committed to Net Zero emissions by 2050, one thing is becoming clear, we are going to struggle to get all the way there just by reducing emissions.
We need to turn back the clock on climate change. Somehow take the carbon we have released since industrialisation back out of the air. And fast.
Trees are already doing this job for us but with continued use of fossil fuels and deforestation, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is rising faster than natural processes alone can counteract. That’s why experts are seeking ways to mimic what nature can do.
Fortunately, the technologies to do just that are emerging. Direct Air Capture (DAC) has gone from science fiction to big business and it’s our next revolution. A rapidly evolving space, DAC can cover a whole bunch of technologies and innovations including the re-mineralisation of rocks, absorption by engineered microorganisms or trapping CO2 within advanced materials.
The Biden administration in Augustawarded $1.2 billion to help several companies build direct air capture plants in Texas and Louisiana. Hundreds of start-upshave emerged, chasing corporate giants likeAirbus andJPMorgan Chase who are spending millions to buy carbon removal credits in order to fulfil corporate climate pledges.
Critics point out that many artificial methods of removing carbon dioxide from the air are wildly expensive, in the range of $600 per ton or higher (below $50 would be a more competitive price), and some fear they could distract from efforts to reduce emissions. And if the vast amounts of energy required for direct carbon capture aren’t green, the whole process might end up being counter productive.
The question is, what are we using it for? We shouldn’t think of carbon capture as a means to justify continued oil production. But if it can help in areas where it is harder to prevent emissions – such as fertilizer – the opportunities are undeniably exciting.
Entrepreneurs are already using jewellery, fragrances and clothing to demonstrate what’s possible with repurposed carbon. For example, AirCompany takes carbon from the air and turns it into a host of products. First came AirVodka, “the world’s cleanest, highest quality and first carbon-negative spirit”. Then came a fragrance, laundry detergent and even fuel.
Twelve is a “carbon transformation company” that creates fossil-free fuel from air, not oil. Apparently, with the “same quality and performance as conventional marine fuel, but with up to 90% lower lifecycle emissions”. In 2022, this fuel powered a U.S. Air Force Flight. JetBlue and Virgin Atlantic have recently entered a multiyear agreements to buy the fuel.
So, is this latest venture truly a step in the right direction? Or an advanced form of greenwashing, concealing a global crisis of overproduction and overconsumption?
Perhaps both are true.
Energy Security and Net-Zero Minister Graham Stuart, who will lead the UK Government’s delegation at COP28, has stated that there is“nothing fundamentally wrong with oil and gas” so long as carbon capture is used. Carbon capture cannot become an excuse for failing to deliver urgent emission reductions, especially while the technologies are not yet scalable.
If we want to reach our NetZero targets, immediate action is needed. But, the next revolution in direct air capture technology provides an interesting demonstration of what the future holds.
The world is a gloomy place right now. Wars, malnutrition… you know the deal. And so much purpose work highlights the problems in a negative way, in effect burdening society with yet more negativity. I feel there’s a responsibility to at least try to find a positive angle, perhaps through humor or portraying a desired outcome, that doesn’t just highlight the problem and leave people feeling depressed and apathetic. Because apathy leads to a lack of action.
Yet action is exactly what’s needed. Absolutely everyone can make a difference. Every tiny decision we make on a daily basis has an effect in the world. From how we get to work, to the food we buy for lunch. Even our choice of toilet roll. We live in a world where we can make big differences through micro decisions. Creatively speaking, it’s really important the work helps people understand how they can help, because I genuinely believe most people want to; they just don’t know how. So it’s not just enough to do ‘awareness’ any more. I’m aware the world needs fixing, give me the tools to do it.
I also believe in creating work that has a strong link between the brand and the purpose. It might sound obvious, but so much purpose work seems to be opportunistic – as much for the sake of creating noticeable advertising as it is for the cause itself. There’s an inauthenticity that consumers can sense. I believe in thoroughly researching the given subject before a creative solution is even considered. This affords you the confidence and credibility to execute an idea relevantly and effectively. Often, work is remembered only through the execution. I hope to create work that is remembered as much for the brand.
Our recent anti-bullying work for The Diana Award is, I hope, an example. It followed a survey of over 2,000 parents and children, which revealed that 65% of young people are afraid of going back to school because of bullying. That’s over half of our children fearful of physical or emotional violence. This shocking fact was the perfect springboard from which to start the creative process. So we decided to disrupt the whole premise of ‘Back to School’, starting with a film. Back-to-school ads are always so cheerful, we knew it would be powerful if bullying ‘hijacked’ that nauseatingly optimistic depiction of school as portrayed by the world of advertising. The work then recruited children to become anti-bullying ambassadors in their schools to turn the tide.
An emotional craft
Most important in work like this are the principles of craft: the time and energy spent lifting work from the pool of mediocrity into the heavens. Making sure every word, every detail, is contributing to telling your story in the best possible way. Because if people aren’t in some way emotionally engaged with the work, then you’re wasting your time.
This applies to all creative work, but when the purpose lies beyond selling product, it somehow feels even more critical. According to a recent survey, while three-quarters of mainstream ads were able to capture attention, the proportion dropped to two-thirds for purpose work. There is no excuse for this, as purpose is inherently more emotional.
Ultimately, it’s no longer enough just to communicate a problem. It’s about credibly creating impact and leaving the world more hopeful. The sector is called ‘impact’ for a reason. To be effective it has to positively impact the world. And that will only happen if the work hits your target audiences’ consciousness like a de-railed freight train.
Oct 31, 2023
The next revolution is… unpolarising purpose
Halloween is scary, but not as much as the wrath of today’s culture war bearing down on your brand’s purpose strategy. What is the way forward for purpose marketing in an increasingly polarised world?
Halloween aside, we live in spine-chilling times. Polarisation has gripped almost all aspects of culture and politics.
Dogmatic views and the deafening shouts of the extremes creates fractures between and within generations. With the US and UK general elections looming, divided opinions will only entrench as hyperbole and identity politics take hold of mainstream media.
It leaves marketers in a precarious position when it comes to purpose. Whereas in the past brands’ vocal stand on controversial issues have garnered praise, today they can face backlash.
And it’s not just the brand reputation at stake. Senior marketers have lost jobs. Staff face physical and verbal attack. Earlier this year, target employees were confronted by angry shoppers and their LGBTQIA+ displays vandalised. It means managing the reservations of internal stakeholders is becoming a significant job for purpose professionals.
But a retreat from purpose is not the answer. There is a gap between what marketers see and what consumers want.
Revolt research shows 58% of US consumers state they “prefer it when brands advocate for issues that matter to me and to them”. One in two Republican respondents agree brands should stand for particular issues. Evidently, a brand doing good for the world can garner cross-partisan support.
So with marketer’s stuck between a rock and hard place, what’s next?
Hearing about a polarised world is nothing new. But rarely do we hear how to move forward. All diagnosis, no solution. Report’s latest report changes that. We provide a new playbook for purpose in the age of polarisation.
In short, words matter. It’s not just what you say, but how you say it.
How you frame a particular issue is critical in deciding whether people are on your side or not. In politics, for example, it is more effective to frame your argument in terms of your opponents values. Research by cognitive scientist George Lakoff shows how our mind thrives on metaphor, narrative and emotion. They create mental shortcuts which speed up our reasoning and decision making, sometimes at the expense of rationality.
It is why those who heard crime talked about as a “virus infecting” rather than a “beast preying” were more likely to support reformative measures rather than punitive measures, in one recent study.
Tame the bear with Revolt’s latest report
Crucially, this is not about shying away from purpose. In a world buckling under the weight of rising temperatures and inequality, a purpose strategy is essential in creating meaning with your audiences.
But effective purpose is about choosing your words carefully. We are all remarkably sensitive to how things are framed.
Click download to learn more about the importance of framing. Uncover the words that resonate with both Republicans and Democrats. Learn how to frame a strategy that unites not only external audiences, but internal stakeholders.
Phew. One less scary thing to worry about.
If you’re seeking to navigate purpose in the era of polarization, this is your new playbook. We’d love to support. Give us a call.
Oct 26, 2023
Progressive purpose is driving a wedge between Americans
Centrist messaging unites Democrats and Republicans on social & environmental issues
More than half of US consumers (58%) want brands to demonstrate a clear sense of purpose, but the way issues are framed can be politically polarizing, with ‘progressive’ language driving a dividing wedge between Democrats and Republicans by up to 32%. However, this gap can be closed to 8% by using more ‘centrist’ language.
This is one of the key findings revealed in Poking the Bear, the latest report from global purpose consultancy Revolt. Research* conducted by Revolt revealed just how much people’s political views shape their attitudes to key purpose-related issues, such as climate change and LGBTQ+ equality. Importantly though, the research also showed the extent to which simple changes to marketing language can significantly reduce the political polarization and increase unity in attitudes towards those issues.
With almost half of large companies saying they have experienced ESG backlash and expect it to intensify, some corporates are going into purpose-related hibernation, rather than risk the perceived reputational damage from ‘poking the bear’. But with consumers’ and employees’ shifting expectations and so many critical issues now requiring brand and business support, hibernation is not an option. Revolt’s research reveals that rather than getting trapped in a cycle of ‘purpose paralysis’, and pausing or abandoning purposeful marketing and communications, brands can make important progress by shifting language to bring more people with them and avoid backlash.
Unsurprisingly, the research showed that sexuality and gender identity rights is the most politically polarizing issue in the US today, with just 27% of right-leaning voters ranking this issue as important versus 64% of left-leaning voters. Climate change was the second most polarizing issue, with 45% of right-leaning respondents saying it was important, compared with 81% of left-leaning respondents.
For those brands with general market audiences, less polarizing issues are often considered to be the most appropriate to support. However, Revolt’s research revealed how more ‘grizzly’ issues can be ‘tamed’ by careful and pragmatic shifts in language to align with universal values.
Looking at one of the top two most polarizing issues, climate change with a polarization gap of nearly 40%, using ‘centrist’ language makes the issue much less polarizing and much more important to respondents. For example, support for “The individual right to clean air and clean water” – an issue adjacent to climate change – was the most unifying statement tested, with 85% of left-leaners and 78% of right-leaning voters in support – a polarization gap of just 7%. Similarly, when phrased in the centrist language “Securing a safe climate for your family’s future”, climate change becomes the 5th most important issue among all respondents, while the more progressive frame of “Fighting for climate justice for all” sees climate fall to 17th place.
Overall, Revolt found that more ‘centrist’ language helped to increase the importance of all issues with right-leaning US voters. Five issues in particular increased in importance among right-leaners with more centrist framing: Education, LGBTQ+ equality, air and water pollution, climate change and workers’ rights.
More surprisingly, across the full range of issues tested, not only did centrist language perform better with right-leaning respondents, but it was also more appealing to those on the left. This brings into question whether progressive language is really serving any audience.
The research also revealed the most inherently unifying issues, regardless of language, which include “Government responsibility and debt”, with 72% of right leaning voters saying this was important, compared with 76% of those who are left leaning – just 4% political difference – and “Care for the elderly”, with 75% of right-leaners believing it to be important and 82% of left-leaners in agreement.
In addition to understanding the bear you’re poking and shifting the language (taming your grizzlies), Revolt’s research revealed three other key approaches for brands to successfully embrace purpose-related issues in the age of polarization. ‘Bear-proof your strategy’ – ensure your chosen cause is connected to your brand and earn the right to play in this space. ‘Plan for the bear to wake up’ – brands with a crisis management plan in place are much more likely to survive an attack. And, ‘have your pack’s back’ – build a community around you to fall back on and provide support in moments of need.
Freya Williams, Fractional Chief Strategy Officer, US, Revolt, said: “For brands with a purpose mission, winning the war of ideas is critical in progressing action. From Revolt’s research, we can see that moderate language means majority support. While progressive language may seem like a stronger articulation of the cause, it isn’t supporting purposeful action as even Democrat-leaning voters view issues as more important when framed with more moderate language. Brands have the opportunity to use these insights to unite rather than divide Americans”
Richard Arscott, President, US, Revolt, said: “When terms like ESG and woke are being weaponized to divide and disrupt the transformation to more purposeful ways of doing business, framing has never been more important. Finding the right words can mean the difference between uniting a movement for change or provoking a backlash.”
*About The Research The report findings and recommendations for brands are informed by conversations with 20+ purpose, ESG and sustainability communicators, and quantitative research among 1000 US consumers. It also uses research from Revolt’s 2023 Causes That Count research, which also featured quantitative research among 1000 US consumers.
Oct 12, 2023
Fighting For Attention: Why Disruptive Advertising Matters
Revolt’s ECD Orlando Warner on disruption and the agency’s new ‘#BackToBullying’ campaign
According to the Technical University of Denmark, the average attention span has now shrunk to about 47 seconds (and because of the words ‘Technical’ and ‘University’, I believe them). I can vouch for this from my own personal experience. My attention span regularly wanders like a badly trained beagle. Now where was I? Oh yes, the dwindling concentration-span crisis.
The main culprit is the sheer volume of information being presented to people. As we wade our way through a ceaseless barrage of shouty adverts, beeping notifications and the latest TikTok dance craze, it’s hardly surprising we barely have the headspace to remember where the car is parked. We are quite simply overstimulated: bloated on the visual and verbal cacophony of noise.
It’s why we all need to be wrenched out of our comfort zones every now and again. With our recent stunt for The Diana Award we wanted to surprise people into staying engaged with our idea. We wanted to hijack their concentration.
But first, a bit of background. The Diana Award is Princess Diana’s legacy charity. Their mission is to empower young people to change the attitudes and culture of bullying. A recent survey they commissioned of 2,000 parents and children revealed 65% of young people are afraid of going back to school because of bullying. That’s over half of our children fearful of physical or emotional violence.
So we decided to disrupt the whole premise of Back to School. We started with a film. Back-to-school ads are always so cheerful, we knew it would be powerful if bullying ‘hijacked’ that nauseatingly optimistic depiction of school as portrayed by the advertising world. With the brilliant Lucy Bridger from Agile Films, and designers Amy Whittaker and Ines Segades, we worked flat out to turn around a hard-hitting film in 7 weeks, begging, borrowing and stealing all the way. But we weren’t stopping there.
We then got in touch with Westfield and explained that as all the shops were filled with back to school promotions, we wanted to do a stunt featuring mannequins bullying each other. 10 days later the installation was being assembled by Matt Roach and Sarah Levitt (the creatives), Julie Cook (the producer) and Jenny Dee (the production designer) throughout the night. The mannequins were morbidly cut and carefully reshaped into positions of violence and humiliation in our fake Back to School clothing showcase.
It’s had an amazing response, with hundreds of people saying it “stopped them in their tracks” and made them feel “deeply moved”. People really engaged. Fully. And I had some extraordinary and terrifying conversations with parents of children who are experiencing bullying.
The campaign reached over 12 million people. The film was played on the BBC a dozen times, Ronan Keating discussed it on Magic Radio (I know!!!), and there were people in the creative industry saying they wish they’d made it – a wonderful compliment. It’s a privilege to have made a campaign that provokes such strong reactions. It’s a privilege to work for a company, Revolt, who will back such projects. But most of all it’s a privilege to work on a campaign that could make a difference to someone, somewhere, who thinks the bullying will never stop.
Orlando Warner is the executive communications director at Revolt
Oct 11, 2023
The ‘purpose drops’ paradigm: How brands are making purpose tangible
Most brands now realize that a clearly communicable purpose is table stakes. But how to make that abstract commitment feel real? With things, says Revolt’s Alex Lewis.
How do you make purpose tangible? This is one of the key questions facing marketers today. With brands and businesses making big commitments to help create a better world, many audiences are left asking what change is going to look like. Bold visions and audacious targets help set the direction, but they are distant and abstract. What’s needed to bring purpose to life are things you can see, hold, feel, and engage with.
This is where purpose-led innovation ‘drops’ can play a big role. Innovation drops are usually limited-time, localized products or services aimed to enthuse fans, trial new designs, and push into new audiences. Purpose drops do the same for impact. Small-scale releases of purpose-led products or services help signal the direction of the business overall. They don’t claim to have fully solved a problem but rather show the ingenuity and commitment of a brand to its cause.
With almost half of consumers viewing purpose activity with skepticism, taking action has become more important than ever. Drops have the advantage of being relatively quick to deliver and can live as a compelling story long after their time on the shelves. So rather than waiting for some multi-year program to deliver a cluster of PR-able results, more and more brands are choosing to make ‘a thing’ that audiences can wrap their heads around and engage directly with. Drops are telling stories, creating statements of intent, and generating buzz to cast halos around brands. Let’s take a look at some of the best examples.
Leveraging the potential in the byproducts of your production
A good example here is South African beer brand Castle Lager, which spotted a bread-making opportunity in its spent grain, and is now committed to feeding over a million disadvantaged South Africans over the next three years. As well as communicating its ingredients’ quality credentials (ie.‘it’s good enough to make bread’), the initiative reinforces Castle Lager’s position as a rooted and proud South African brand.
Creating a ‘proof of concept’ for a sustainable solution
Fashion brand Stella McCartney produced 100 luxury handbags that use lab-grown mycelium as a leather alternative. Despite its small-scale run, this demonstrates the brand’s ongoing commitment to sustainable fashion, while setting a precedent for others to use the material in the future.
Is there a pressing issue that connects to your audience?
In response to Germany’s ‘Tampon Tax’ (which classified tampons as luxury goods alongside caviar and fine art), womenswear brand The Female Company created a limited run of tampons packaged in books. The move raises awareness while playfully circumventing the tax. The books sold out in supermarkets, amassed huge amounts of attention, and surely played a role in getting the tax abolished.
Using scale to support an industry
Revolt worked with Budweiser to create the Budweiser Energy Collective. As an extension of its pledge to brew 100% of its beer with renewable energy, Bud deployed its purchasing power to secure hugely discounted prices for electricity before passing the supply and savings onto SME partners who drive the physical availability of the brand.
Purpose drops can put a wide range of possibilities on the table. But brands need to determine their ‘right to play’ within an issue. The starting point is to look for alignment between the action you’re taking and who you are as a business. Often, the opportunity and your right to play will be linked; for example, answering ‘yes’ to any of the following questions could set the stage for credible impact.
1. Can you extend your offer to meet an underserved group’s needs?
Ikea created a series of 3D printable open-source ‘add-ons’ designed to make its furniture more accessible for people with mobility and dexterity issues. Alongside reinforcing its age-old brand purpose of ‘democratizing design’, the initiative’s launch saw a 33% uplift in sales for products featuring the devices.
2. Could an intervention improve behavior in your category?
See also Makro Supermarket’s fruit and vegetable stickers that prevent food waste by educating consumers on ‘adequate ripeness’.
3. Is there an issue your business’s specific expertise could help resolve?
Koushi Chemical Industry Co applied its engineering and materials expertise to create a solution for the thousands of tons of scallop shells discarded on Japanese fishing shores every year. Recognizing potential in the shell’s calcium carbonate, the company developed a way to upcycle them into a new compound – creating helmets (now sold to industrial giants), and setting a new materials standard for others to follow.
Purpose drops provide a practical route to impact. Even though they’re small-scale, if done right, they can have a disproportionate effect – both on your brand and your issue. But that’s not to say they can’t scale. Drops can act as a method for trial and feedback. What starts as a tactic could end up informing wider strategy.
A successful initiative could lead to a more considered pilot, or it could serve as a business case that generates internal alignment and more resources for bigger projects down the line. Who knows, a drop could end up landing you on your brand’s equivalent of Greggs’ vegan sausage roll.
Sep 22, 2023
Disaster marketing: Where the four Ps meet the three Fs of climate change
Floods, fire and famine. Extreme weather events in 2023 have highlighted the urgency of climate change, and Olly Lawder, Senior Strategy Director at Revolt, shares advice for how marketers can respond to the climate crisis.
Our climate has changed. The heatwaves across Europe and the US in July would have been “virtually impossible” without human-induced climate change, according to the World Weather Attribution. Global temperatures last month shattered records, leading to the UN Secretary General António Guterres to declare “the era of global boiling has arrived”. We know the intimate connection between emissions and temperature rise. What we’ve been less clear on is just how bad the consequences will be. So far, they’ve been worse than expected.
Many brand marketers will be considering what they can do to help tackle global climate change. However, the majority of marketers sell products and services that either fit into an aspirational picture of a life or make everyday living a little more convenient and comfortable. When disaster strikes, do they really want to be associated with that?
Disasters reveal the dependency business has on both stable supply and consumer markets. With the rate and severity of the three Fs (flood, fire and famine) predicted to increase with rising CO2, any brand that makes, moves or sells products that rely on natural resources not only has a risk to manage, but an obligation to be part of the solution. And beyond the responsibility, there is also opportunity – a role for brands to be there for their customers at moments of need. Marketing in times of disaster, let’s call it ‘disaster marketing’, is about blending purpose, sustainability and communications for positive impact in a way that connects brands with people and place.
Disaster marketing is not crisis comms. Crisis comms is when something terrible has happened to your business. Disaster marketing is when something terrible has happened to the world your business is part of. This summer’s wildfires come after a solid run of crises – hurricanes, a pandemic and wars – and we have already seen some great examples of disaster marketing.
Using the lens of marketing’s four Ps, we can see the approach that brands are taking.
Price: Climate change’s impact on consumer finances
‘Climateflation’ has been a recent contributor to the cost-of-living crisis. We are glimpsing the economic reality of a changed climate: infrastructure breakdown, trade disruption, scarcity and asset destruction. In the short term, if a supply chain is disrupted or a key ingredient is unavailable a disaster can send your price skyrocketing.
The cost-of-living crisis has left some Brits struggling to feed their families, with 1.1 million of them turning to loan sharks. Iceland decided to help by creating ethical credit with 100% interest-free micro-loans for families to help them put food on the table. Brands need to be able to react to fluctuating costs and changing consumer spending power.
Product: Pivoting to help tackle climate
In an emergency, perspectives change. Wants are replaced by needs, needs replaced by necessities. For brands who sell something that competes with an essential like water or a staple crop, an emergency can be a time to get out the way. This is why Coca Cola China has a disaster readiness plan to switch over its plants from soda to bottled water production.
If you sell a non-essential good, it may be time to look at your core competencies and ask what you can make that will make a positive difference with climate change. LMVH responded to COVID by re-tooling its plants to create much-needed hand sanitiser. When the war in Ukraine sent a wave of refugees fleeing to Poland, MasterCard helped people to resettle, with an app that showed the best areas in Poland to find a new home.
Place: Brand action where it is needed most
Disasters can disrupt brand presence in specific locations. But they can also take brands to new places. In the aftermath of the Hurricane Katrina disaster, Walmart delivered 2,450 truckloads of supplies to help meet the emergency needs of local people. This was a truly heroic gesture. However, brands are rarely the hero in consumer’s lives, so comms should always focus on being in service to consumers in need.
Brands use place as part of their heritage narrative, but consumer distrust often sets in when the same brands distance themselves from the world around them. When disaster strikes a brand’s location, it bursts this bubble, revealing the impact on its people and assets. The decision as to whether to stay or leave is not always clear-cut. As in the case of the Ukraine war, the question of who suffers by your departure must be weighed against who benefits by remaining.
Promotion: Telling climate stories
If the first three Ps are the short-term response, promotion is ‘the long of it’. It’s how you tell your climate stories. Most companies are broadly comfortable talking about ‘reducing emissions’. This is ‘mitigation’, but it is only one half of what needs to happen on climate. The other half is ‘adaptation’ – preparing for the consequences of change that’s too late to avoid, eg this summer’s heatwaves. Brands are afraid of telling this story in case it looks like they’re giving up on mitigation.
And in a climate of right-wing backlash and (much needed) new rules on greenwash, avoiding adaptation stories is perhaps unsurprising. But ‘green hushing’ in a climate crisis can be just as irresponsible. So what’s the right approach? We live in a moment that is simultaneously the best and worst of times. Technological solutions are breaking through, yet emissions remain stubbornly high. Only a balanced message can reflect the reality: we’re in trouble, but hope remains, if we act.
Many in the marketing community are fond of arguing that marketing never changes. The fundamentals are timeless and the principles constant. What has changed, however, is the context. We’re in a world where climate change is no longer a problem for the future, it’s here now. The question then, is not if climate change is part of your brand story, but how, where and when it will become part of your business reality.
Sep 22, 2023
Brands and the green opportunity
Why marketers should start thinking about Labour’s green economy plans
While we’ve been witnessing the shocking scenes of wildfires burning in Southern Europe and North America, environmental issues have been used to drive division in UK politics. The byelection results in Uxbridge and ongoing arguments about ULEZ are testament to this.
Just at a time when we need to be stepping up our collective activities to address climate change, we seem to be losing direction. Only recently the Climate Change Committee (the government’s advisory body) concluded that the UK is no longer a world leader on climate issues, and claims were made that the UK is no longer on target to meet 2030 Net Zero commitments. Despite this, the Prime Minister is now claiming Britain can slow down on Net Zero because it is a leader, announcing a pushback on the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2030 to 2035. While it pleased some in the Conservative Party, it drew widespread criticism, notably from car manufacturer Ford.
Labour is currently polling ahead, it is impossible to predict who will be in power after the 2024 General Election and similarly hard to know what our governmental leadership on climate issues will really look like in the coming months.
But if the polls are correct and we have a Labour government, we could see a very different approach to environmentalism. Labour’s climate recovery plans haven’t really had the attention you might expect, but if Labour do get into power, they could present new and not insignificant opportunities for businesses to play an active role in tackling climate change.
Earlier this year, Labour published its Green Economy Recovery proposals. The party argues for urgent investment to support up to 400,000 green jobs across the country, and sets out its key principles for a ‘Green Economic Recovery’: sufficient action to meet the scale of the climate challenge, a recovery based on ‘decent work’, a just transition for a fairer, more sustainable and dynamic economy, and change needed at system, not just sector, level.
A key pillar of Labour’s approach is its commitment to intervention and aim to unite climate recovery and economic growth. Labour believes that economic growth can drive climate recovery, and vice versa – a green and virtuous circle, if you will.
Critically for businesses and marketers is Labour’s plans to behave like a VC firm – investing and collaborating with businesses to fuel sustainable innovation. This could open up big opportunities for brands looking to drive purposeful action on climate change.
Labour want to remove obstacles: rethinking regulation and planning, access to finance and strategic partnerships with industries to make Britain a high-growth start-up hub. Labour cites the US government which regularly provides direct or indirect investment of public funds in early-stage projects or technologies in order to foster innovation, create jobs and advance certain policy objectives.
If the UK had the same level of venture capital investment as a % of GDP as the US, this would add £16 billion – nearly double the level currently. This would see more innovation, higher economic growth, and better living standards.
Many of the ventures that have benefitted from US government investment are now fundamental to our daily lives: the internet, GPS and touchscreen technology, digital voice assistants, barcodes, Lithium-ion batteries… the list goes on. Labour is looking to adopt this approach but for sustainability. President Biden is already looking to provide funds for climate-related investment through his landmark Inflation Reduction Act.
So, if Labour’s plans were to go ahead – and at this stage it is a big if – it would give brands the opportunity to supercharge their approach to sustainability with government investment and collaboration. For those brands that want to get a head start, there are several things to begin thinking about.
Build partnerships and POVs in your category’s transition agenda
Unilever’s collaboration with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation has resulted in its commitment to ensure all of its plastic packaging is recyclable, reusable, or compostable by 2025. The alliance has enabled Unilever to be recognized as an industry leader on sustainability.
Create directional narratives (that stakeholders can align with)
Microsoft takes a definitive stance on AI ethics through its “AI for Good” initiative, focusing on responsible AI deployment in areas such as accessibility and humanitarian action. This narrative resonates with stakeholders and positions Microsoft as a thought leader in AI policy.
What service innovations can you introduce?
Renault worked with the French Government to make electric vehicle charging available in the remoter regions of the country. The Plug Inn app created nearly 500,000 charging points by partnering with communities of people who welcome drivers to charge their EVs in their homes.
How can you build infrastructure and create jobs in the UK?
Coca-Cola has started to build plant-plastic factories as part of the launch of its bottle prototype made from 100% plant-based sources. Similarly, Corona created jobs in China by partnering with the Chinese Government to farm limes through its Corona Extra Lime programme. Both of these ventures fuelled valuable opportunities for PR and marketing storytelling.
Create marketing narratives that show delivery for diverse economic groups
Starbucks has been opening community stores in underserved neighbourhoods to stimulate local economic growth. These stores partner with local minority contractors, suppliers, and provide in-store training programs for youth. Any profits are reinvested into the community.
Focus on marketing that presents your vision of the sustainable future
Recently, MSC Cruises unveiled how they are looking to make their much-maligned category more sustainable, with initiatives including cleaner fuel, recycling and improved water management.
Leaving party politics aside, Labour’s plans present potentially big opportunities for brands looking to drive purposeful action in climate change. And even if these proposals don’t become governmental reality, brands will be doing valuable work to move their sustainability programmes forward by focusing on these important areas of development.
Sep 14, 2023
Sam Anderson, The Drum
We ask marketers: can B Corp still drive real change in marketing?
Following open letters demanding clarity on whether marketing B Corps can work with heavy polluters, is the sustainability accreditor washed? We asked marketing leaders from The Drum Network.
B Corp is by no means the only organization in the sustainability accreditation space, so the organization that runs it, B Lab, will be treading carefully through this controversy. But will its broad-church approach risk alienating the more strident voices? Does B Corp remain a promising avenue for real sustainability change? And do marketers still have faith? We asked some.
Charlotte Hamill, COO of Born Social (part of the Croud Group):
“I support industry pressure on B Lab to provide more clarity. If it truly wants to mobilize business to drive change (and to maintain its credibility), it is in B Corp’s interest to prevent big business from maintaining the status quo. If you don’t stand against something, do you really stand for anything? As a business leader, I am happy to have the headache of choosing between commercial gain and certification. Is this not the entire point? We need to force businesses uncomfortably into learning how to grow ‘right’.
“If B Corp is reluctant to set out hard lines, perhaps a more flexible approach would be to introduce a penalty system. A business that chooses to work with a conflicting industry, such as fossil fuels, gets 10 points deducted from its B Impact score – a hefty price to pay in a system that mostly awards in decimal points. The business then has a choice of whether to counterbalance its choice by heavily investing in sustainability elsewhere to maintain its score, materially reducing sustainability credibility, or at worse dropping beneath the 80-point threshold and losing certification.”
Julie Reid, strategy director, Hallam:
“The number of organizations seeking B Corp certification has skyrocketed in recent years. I think it speaks to a genuine desire to do business in a better way – that’s certainly what it was for our agency. The framework was a straightforward way to measure our impact with concrete recommendations on how to improve – useful for a company just starting out on its journey. But there will always be some who want the designation without making substantial changes.
“Is B Corp still a promising avenue for real change? Yes. If an organization pursuing the certification is intent on aligning its business with the stated values of B Corp, it will find enormous benefit in the framework (and more importantly the community behind it).
“Is it perfect? No. We should all participate in the conversation to uphold high standards and set out clearly what is (and isn’t) B Corp behaviour.”
Pooja Dindigal, global head of impact, DEPT:
“B Corp certification absolutely remains a promising avenue of real sustainability change. While the sustainability world is littered with an alphabet soup of reporting standards, pledges, campaigns, and ‘commitments’, there aren’t many frameworks that actually have companies assessing their performance and incentivizing them to change. Those incentives are not solely brought on by B Corp certification requirements, but by the community of like-minded businesses pushing each other along. By becoming a B Corp, you take stock of your impact on stakeholders (whether you like it or not) and are held to a higher standard by those stakeholders. We can’t make decisions that run counter to those expectations. That facilitates real sustainability change. Marketers should look at B Corp Certification with nuance; it’s not just a checklist of requirements or practices, but a transformational way of thinking, working, and doing.”
Alex Lewis, co-founder, Revolt:
“As the most widely recognized corporate accreditation for good ESG practice. B Corp continues to have an important role to play. The best solution is to encourage B Lab to review and evolve its commitments so that it sets a high, progressive bar, rather than turning to something else. In that sense, they should adopt a hard line on those who work with fossil fuels. And as more and more agencies take the decision not to work with fossil fuel and high-polluting clients themselves, this will become a simpler, less ambiguous position for B Lab to adopt.”
Sean Stanfield, senior account manager, Brandnation:
“For consumers, B Corp remains the gold-standard assessment that a company is committed to making the planet a greener place. Clarification on its position is important, as it ensures brands are transparent in their practices and avoids setting a double standard. That said, as industries transition from fossil fuels to green energy, there must be some allowances for growth so as to not block the door for those who want to become greener in the future.
“In setting the bar for becoming B Corp, a balance must be struck in having firm lines which cannot be crossed, no matter how much good a brand does for the planet. Yes, it should be a high bar (to guarantee compliance, fairness and status) but the green agenda cannot grow if brands are excluded through simple association. The sooner B Lab confirms exactly where the line is, the sooner those not in the exclusive club can work to get through the door.”
Laurent Olver, head of marketing, GreenJinn:
“We’re at the verification stage of becoming a B Corp, and still think it is a great action to join up. B Corp has the platform and opportunity to make positive changes and for businesses to consistently improve. It’s about not just looking at one area in sustainability, which is where some of the criticism is, but looking at every area of the business including people for example. Even just through the process of the application and self-assessment, we have improved how we run as a business and our employee wellbeing.”
“We’re seeing more and more brands become B Corps; it’s almost becoming a requirement as we see B Corp brands collaborate with each other and support each other. They are together building a force to put pressure on the government where legislation changes can be made. We want to be a part of that.”
Alistair Robertson, creative partner, Nucco:
“Fingers crossed, we’ll be B Corp certified before the end of the year. We view membership as a commitment to our team, clients, and other stakeholders to ‘be the change we want to see’.
“The process has been worthwhile. It has held our feet to the fire and ensured we increased our transparency internally and externally – including the publication of our first annual impact report. Doing so placed us closer to a network of businesses with similar prerogatives. “While new business and community wasn’t an initial driving factor, in this tough economic environment every little friendship and conversation point has been welcome.
“Certification is just a start, one we expect to become a cost of entry rather than a badge of honour. But that’s okay. While we want to commercially succeed, we’d like to live in a less chaotic and dangerous world more.”
Sep 14, 2023
Jennifer Small, Creative Salon
Most Creative Marketers: Deb Caldow
“Show me how you help today’s marketers traverse the tension of selling & building brands without costing the planet.” Diageo’s first global sustainability marketer issues a call to action for adland.
“There’s a new set of measures in town in service of achieving both business results and sustainability targets,” declares Deb Caldow – Diageo’s first global sustainability marketing director. Caldow supported the marketing function to accelerate progress on the company’s sustainability agenda – which includes a commitment to spend 10 per cent of its marketing budgets with diverse-owned and disadvantaged suppliers and agencies by 2025, and 15 per cent by 2030; and also commits the drinks business to achieve 50 per cent female representation in leadership roles by 2030.
“This is what it means to be commercial sustainably, and it’s going to require the best of the marketing industry’s creativity to deliver,” says Caldow. “It’s not only about moral obligations. It’s about ensuring business resilience. You can’t be in business and grow brands if the world isn’t functioning.”
Many marketers are “terrified” and a little “lost” on the sustainability agenda
Take tequila – the fastest growing drinks category and forecast to be worth around $25.4bn by 2026 – it’s made from the blue agave plant, native to the area surrounding the city of Tequila, Mexico. The spirit is one of the biggest agricultural exports for the Mexican economy, but the region is ‘water-stressed’. This is a real challenge for sustainable growth and an example of just one of the areas that Diageo is looking at in a mission to produce spirits sustainably.
“If we can’t produce what the world needs because climate change is depleting natural resources, then there are no brands to build. This isn’t just about saving the world. It’s about having resilient businesses within a thriving planet where there’s a better balance between what we make and consume. Because AI can’t grow an agave or coffee plant,” Caldow says.
A talent for innovation and transformation took root in the early stages of Caldow’s career when she helped establish online shopping for Topshop at the turn of the millennium, when back then, people rejected the idea of consumers buying clothes online. She polished her smarts with stints at Kellogg, Britvic, an earlier experience at Diageo as brand manager for Baileys and Gordons, and most recently as global brand, sponsorship, and sustainability director at Costa Coffee, where she had also led the global innovation team.
The Costa role was all about taking the brand into new markets and making sure the $5bn that Coca-Cola had spent on Costa was going to pay back.
“Half my job was classic brand building, taking Costa Coffee into new markets post the $5bn sale of the brand to The Coca-Cola Company. The other part of the role I was asked to do was new to me – the sustainability bit. But I love transformation and challenging briefs, so I think that’s why they gave it to me.”
Caldow’s first focus was on recruiting technical subject matter experts who knew how to do the work, to allow her to focus on how to take the business on the journey, and mobilise around a new sustainable agenda, she explains.
Learning how to build a brand in a sustainable way was “the ultimate gift of a role”, she says. Because it spanned everything from Costa’s corporate sustainability strategy, how to incorporate it as a brand-building and engagement tool through storytelling, and even running the Costa Foundation.
“What I learnt in those four years, was how to pivot lanes and help the business focus into a more sustainable space,” Caldow says. “In this way, it’s a marketing job at the core, how to help people change behaviours and show them a new way forward.”
Her role at Diageo, which she began in February, sees Caldow working across the organisation on two aspects: one is innovation – defining the future of sustainable socialising.
“Life is all a bit bleak right now, but the category Diageo is in is about celebration and socialising. I find myself in a business, not unlike coffee, which is about humans spending time together, and connecting with themselves and others. It’s about the moment and the occasion. People don’t want to feel guilty about the world that sits behind creating these products. They just want to have a nice time.”
The other aspect of Caldow’s Diaego role is to mobilise the drinks giant’s community of 2,500 marketers to learn to embed sustainability in their brand strategies. Diageo’s supply chain teams have rightly taken the lead in this area, explains Caldow, and it’s the marketers’ job to “create a runway for growth.”
“The world has got to change. Marketers’ reason for being is to drive more people to buy more stuff, but what is our place in a world where, actually that’s what got us into this mess?”
“Consumers care, but not enough”
The real question, says Caldow, is how do marketers create better experiences that allow people to enjoy their lives and not negatively impact the planet while they’re doing it? What a brief.
“Most marketers are absolutely terrified,” says Caldow, who admits that at this year’s Cannes Lions Festival, she was disappointed that these issues weren’t a big enough part of the conversation. Caldow references the WFA’s Sustainable Marketing 2030 report, conducted in partnership with Kantar’s Sustainable Transformation Practice, which showed that marketers are lagging behind other functions in terms of leaning in and leading the charge.
But she believes this is marketing’s big moment – the industry’s greatest creativity challenge to date.
The Diageo sustainability programme, known internally as ‘Spirit of Progress’, defines 25 goals that span across DE&I, positive drinking, and ‘grain to glass’, the supply and manufacture part of the business, which is Caldow’s main focus area. Diageo’s 200 brands are organised with priorities leaning towards specific elements of the sustainability programme. The J&B whiskey brand, for example, is using its “brand voice” to have a point of view on inclusion, whereas Guinness, stands very firmly for regenerative agriculture, but it doesn’t mean that DE&I isn’t important there too.
“The real trick for brands and marketers is not to get overwhelmed with doing everything everywhere all at once. On top of sustainability challenges, throw in AI… I know we always say there’s never been a harder time to be a marketer, but now there really has never been a harder time to be a marketer. So, the way we organise ourselves is through very progressive agendas set against those priorities and bringing the best of our creativity to find solutions,” Caldow says. As the world’s fifth-largest spirits producer by revenue ($20.8bn for 2023), Caldow believes Diageo has an opportunity to create change, using its voice and leveraging its billion dollars’ worth of advertising and promotion budget.
“Imagine if we point our briefs and advertising budgets at some of the world’s most important questions…” she says. “The platform marketers have for supporting consumers to make good choices is so influential. At the same time, we recognise the tension when communicating in the sustainability space. Everyone wants to avoid being the next victim of greenwashing, but the opposite is just as concerning; reverting to green-hushing. No one wins when that happens. Acknowledging this, we have developed guidance for our marketers on how to navigate this whole area and launched it across the business.”
With the marketing function led by chief marketing officer Cristina Diezhandino, recently named Global Marketer of the Year by the WFA, Caldow is pushing at an open door. Diageo has phased out the use of 183m cardboard boxes from its premium scotch bottles around the world – in some cases offering personalised bottles for the gifting experience – and if consumer response is successful, it will roll out the move to other brands.
There’s also innovation around reductions in glass, Caldow explains, but at this point, the moves are coming from Diageo – with an eye on sustainability targets and shareholder reporting requirements – rather than a push from consumers.
“Consumers care, but not enough to change behaviour unless there’s something in it for them. That doesn’t mean we should wait until we think consumers are ready. The best way to do this is to give them a beautiful bottle that they want to have out on the shelf, to serve people from, but it’s used half the usual weight of glass. And in doing so, we’ve decarbonised the impact of that bottle. But the reason they want it is not just because it’s lightweight and sustainable, they want it because it’s beautiful and the liquid is amazing.”
Caldow describes this as the tension between intent and action: “the ‘say’ and ‘do’ gap is more about the way we interpret it.”
The aim, she says, is to bring consumers something so desirable and sustainable, that they can’t say no to it. And while doing so, drive business and brand impact and sustainability targets – that’s the task ahead.
Diageo is also looking at reusing and recycling its massive bank of marketing and advertising assets rather than creating from scratch every single time. Meanwhile, blend AI into the mix and it gets super interesting, Caldow points out.
There’s a dedicated team at the drinks company who identify the right agencies and production partners, making sure those partners are working on the right brief and with the right guidelines around the impact of assets produced. Marketing activity accounts for 7% of Diageo’s scope 3 emissions, says Caldow, who explains that reducing the company’s own footprint is important, but also has an opportunity to influence the industry.
“Consumers care, but not enough”
Yet Caldow seems exasperated at the state of adland’s response to the sustainability brief, and believes that agencies with enough in-depth sustainability experience are a rare find.
“It’s a challenge to find the right agency doing this kind of work,” Caldow says. “Some of the bigger groups have appointed dedicated sustainability leads, but sustainability is not necessarily fundamental to the fabric of the agency’s thinking. Then there are the boutique agencies, which have been set up by people who have become passionate about the green agenda. They are brilliant, but sometimes lack the systematic approach that the bigger agencies offer.”
She sees an opportunity for an agency that takes the rigour from the big networks and applies the passion and creativity of the smaller boutiques. The ideal, she says, would be a mix of the two: an agency that takes the systems and processes from the bigger agencies and applies the passion and creativity of the smaller shops.
So who are the agencies leading the charge in creating sustainable messaging, and delivering those campaigns sustainably? Caldow highlights independent creative studio Revolt, and consultancy for purpose-driven businesses Given, both of which are B Corps.
Her no-nonsense approach means Caldow is slightly exasperated by the agencies who “agitate” by taking a confrontational campaigning stance, rather than getting stuck in and helping brands make real change. “As a client, I don’t want any more agitation. I know what needs to be done. I need really brilliant work that drives consumer behavioural change. Sell me some great ideas. Show me the work. Show me how you help the marketer and brand traverse the tension of selling stuff without costing the planet and get business results. That’s my call to action for the industry – where are those people? They’re the people I want to hear from.”
Adland, it’s over to you.
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