Thursday, April 06, 2006

Selling sustainability

Check out the advertisements above. They were commissioned by the Australian Conservation Foundation to sell sustainability:

It's not every day that advertising companies are approached for advice on reducing consumer product sales that cost the earth. For an industry that does a wonderful job at stimulating our desire for the latest consumer product, it was a whole new concept. Now you can judge whether the ad industry can also do the hard sell on sustainable living. The advertisers were asked to use their powers of innovation to design a billboard to promote the messages Live More, Spend Less and Living Light is the New Cool.
The other two were:
  • a picture of the earth as the meat in a hamburger, with the slogan Stop consuming our planet

  • a picture of a logged and burned patch of forest with the slogans Buy now pay later and We can't afford the cost of overconsumption

So which, if any, make you feel enthused about Living Light?

To my mind, only one even comes close: the barcode. The others are dismal.

Advertisers are experts at associating a product or cause with things that we want to have or who we want to be. They promise us luxury, contentment, popularity, tranquility, glamour, romance, fun - if we buy their product. I haven’t seen many ads that offer us only guilt. Why is the environment different?

Why are you interested in environmental issues? Because you’re passionate about nature? Because you’ve visited places that are beautiful and think we can make our backyard a little more beautiful too? Because you can envisage a world that’s healthier and fairer and feel good about trying to give the world a little bump in that direction? Or because you want to ease some of your guilt about existing and eating and breathing and buying nice clothes? I don’t know anyone who does it for the last reason.

Have you ever seen an ad for Diet Coke that says "Stop eating sugar you big fat slob"?. Hardly. They show slim active people having fun and imply that’s what we’ll be like if we drink Diet Coke. Manipulative? Maybe. Effective? Certainly.

I applaud ACF’s initiative and these advertisers for having a go. But quite frankly these ads don’t cut it. If we’re going to play the advertising game we need to play it right.


Amy Stodghill said...

I think the problem with environmental issues and the way sustainability is played is the call for sacrifice - people (in higher income countries) just don't want to sacrifice certain aspects of their lifestyle, even if it is for the common good. The answer isn't to consume less, it is to produce responsibly (if we are to continue in our global, capitalistic society.)

HDZ said...

Sustainability is tricky.

Environmentalism has for a long time been concerned with moving away from the current capitalist/consumerist society, and, as its name suggests, the natural environment is the overall focus.

Sustainability is different. It is fundamentally about people and how we can marry their wants/needs/desires with the realities of the natural world.

It is about linking history and culture with the future. It is about making sure that there will be jobs for our kids and a health system to support us. It is about how we can give everyone in Australia a home of their own (tapping into the 'great Australian dream') with space and clean air while at the same time reducing our dependence on water, electricity, fuel oil without mortgaging ourselves to the hilt. Now repeat this, as appropriate, around the globe.

To be honest, I don't think any of the environmental groups in Australia at the moment are really up to the challenge.

pedaller said...

Firstly I applaud the ACF's ability to get expensive creative for nix as well as providing 4 different messages that will appeal to 4 different types of people.
I'm mulling over your question of why the environment is different in terms of offering negative images.
Could it be because not enough is known about who the target market is so a broad brush-stroke message that is easily understand by the majority of people is used?
If I'm designing creative for a consumer product I have a mountain of background information about the target audience, so that I can tailor the message to the consumer. Even if I want to sell a more environmentally-friendly car, I understand that the majority of car owners don't really care about the environment but my target audience will be those concerned over rising fuel prices.
The same approach will need to be taken in order to sell sustainability. Choose an area of sustainable living, research the target market, and tailor the message to hone in on that market. This is an expensive process, and it would be a brave organisation that goes down this road because they are bound to lampooned for "wasting money".

Norene said...

hi david,

thanks for visiting my blog.

this is an interesting post. i dont' see these images so much as ads, but more as public service announcements. to be effective as ads, they would need to offer some value to the viewer. what will "i" get for the cost/inconvenience of changing my behavior? that's the ultimate question, and i don't see it being answered effectively.

HDZ said...

In terms of 'value to the viewer', let's not forget that guilt can be an incredibly powerful marketing tool. Just look at the Church, which has used it for millennia, or all those ads for household disinfectant which make you feel guilty for subjecting your children to germs.

The trick is to find a way to make the viewer feel guilty about their actions and then provide the "product" to relieve that guilt. Think again of the church - the sermon provides the guilt and the confession the solution.

The ACF seem to want to use this approach ("stop raping your mother") but have failed to either (a) convince the viewer that there is something that they are doing/not doing that they should be guilty of and (b) provide a solution.