Brand Advisory Board March 2022 – How to make your advertising more sustainable

March 24, 2022

The World Media Group’s Brand Advisory Board (BAB) met last week to discuss sustainability, and specifically, what steps brands can take to make their marketing more sustainable. The group, made up of influencers in high-level leadership roles across key industry sectors, meets three times a year to discuss best-practice around the issues affecting the media industry. This session began with the results of a survey undertaken by the BAB members to uncover what the group considered to be the greatest issues when it comes to sustainable business.

The top three concerns were:

1) Measuring progress and success

2) Reviewing and achieving goals

3) Telling an accurate story

While all members were keen to improve sustainability in their marketing, they were faced with a number of challenges. The survey revealed that only 3 in 10 of the businesses surveyed are currently reviewing supplier processes. Seventy nine percent of the group said that their business does not currently measure the sustainability of their marketing or advertising programmes, but 29% do review all marketing suppliers for sustainable processes. Some positive steps are being taken with 64% already focused on the areas of resource efficiency, plastics and carbon management. However, communicating a brand’s position is often hampered by the fear of greenwashing; evidencing their position; poor comparisons to competitors; having nothing new to say; connection to long-term strategy; and credibility.

EY leads the way on sustainability

To kickstart the group’s thinking on sustainability, Michael Oakes, Global Sustainability, Program Lead at EY, presented a case study showcasing their ambitious strategy to become a market leader in sustainability. The company has developed a Value-Led Sustainability framework to help design and deliver on the business and investment case for sustainability. EY will be carbon negative in 2021 and net zero in 2025. The company plans to achieve this by setting a 1.5°C-based target to reduce its absolute carbon emissions, and removing or offsetting more than the remainder, each year. They are also investing in services and solutions to help clients on their own sustainability and decarbonisation journeys. This is all part of EY’s brand purpose to build a better and more sustainable working world.

Marketing must lead in the race to zero

Next, Robert Dreblow from the World Federation of Advertisers introduced the group to the WFA’s Planet Pledge, a CMO-led framework designed to galvanise action from marketers to promote and reinforce attitudes and behaviours which will help the world meet the challenges laid out in the UN SDGs. According to the WFA’s recent member survey, Sustainability and Marketing is now one of the top three priorities for global marketers, but the marketing department is generally lagging on their sustainability journey compared with their broader organisation. Planet Pledge encourages marketers to come together to change the system collectively, using creativity to lead the way in the Race to Zero.  To read more about the WFA’s Planet Pledge, click HERE

Armed with this knowledge, attendees split up into breakout groups with a view to brainstorming ideas around how to address the top three sustainability concerns that were identified through the BAB member survey. Each group was given a specific question to tackle. Their take outs are summarised below:

  1. How do you develop and evolve authentic sustainability messaging for different stakeholders avoiding green washing?
  • Firstly, the group felt it was important to remember that having purpose, creating credibility around your brand narrative and highlighting your value proposition has always been part of a brand marketing strategy, albeit now pivoting towards sustainability.
  • It is essential to remain true to your brand so you can’t be accused of greenwashing, and ask yourself, is what you’re doing authentic? Is it relevant? Does it add value to communications? And is it right for your consumers? If it’s done in the wrong way or if it’s too sanctimonious, it is likely to have the opposite effect.
  • Education is key: marketers need to be well-versed in the nuances around sustainability and must not make claims that can’t be substantiated.
  • There is no point in doing something just to be seen to be doing it; don’t force it. If the time’s not right, wait until it is.
  • Be clear on the timelines that you’re holding yourself accountable to and be courageous enough to communicate those as part of your approach.
  • When people are getting sustainability fatigue, find a different way to frame the conversation; get creative and lead the generation of that dialogue, even if you’re not the one doing the talking.
  • Find the right experts to provide reputable input to contribute to the decisions you’re making and be agile enough to make up-to-the minute decisions on messaging.
  1. Are there any easy wins that can be activated easily and are there any associated risks?
  • Focusing on measurement, the group identified two clear areas where everyone could make an immediate difference – in production and events.
  • However, it was deemed essential to build some standards and guidelines to provide consistency for longer term success.
  • The first challenge is aligning all the media owners from a global perspective, which is where the assistance of WFA will be key.
  • The next step is to introduce a standard for the brands aligned with the World Media Group with the ambition of finding a benchmark that we can deliver on year after year.
  • Sustainability will become an official part of the judging criteria for the World Media Awards in 2023, so that every campaign receives a score based on its sustainability in marketing.
  1. What does success look like, how do you measure and at what intervals?
  • The group identified a lack of conversation within the businesses about how sustainable the marketing process is – teams don’t ask enough questions about it from the outset.
  • Marketing teams should be more involved in the procurement conversation so that they can be responsible for sourcing local talent rather than using centralised teams which create a substantial carbon footprint.
  • It’s important to map out your activity, prioritise it and how you want to change: Reduce, Replace, Neutralise – reduce global business travel, for example; replace bad habits.
  • A better understanding is required around digitalisation and sustainability – people often see digital marketing as being cleaner but that’s generally not the case.
  • We need to push back on the ‘just get it done’ attitude and give more consideration to how we get it done. This means educating our teams to think the same way, asking the right questions and being more mindful about mapping out the way towards measurement from the start.

What was clear from all three groups is that the desire to do more is there, and collectively, we can do it better. As an industry body, the World Media Group is well-placed to develop the standards and guidelines that are required to ensure consistency around benchmarking and measuring success for sustainability in marketing. We look forward to continuing the discussion in our Smart Briefing event next month and putting some of the action points into motion before our next Brand Advisory Board meeting in July.