There is no doubt that surprising, engaging, and well-thought-out marketing efforts have a profound ability to influence people throughout their buying journey. That’s kind of the whole point. As marketers, we want people to buy what we’re selling. To dream of the dream we portray. The best marketers do this beautifully. They’re like composers on a platform and the world is their band. Being able to influence the human population is a superpower, and like Uncle Ben said to Peter Parker, “With great power comes great responsibility.”
Yet many marketers often dismiss this responsibility. If we take a look back at early tobacco advertising, it’s shocking. RJ Reynolds advertisements for Camel touted that “More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette.” To be fair, researchers were only starting to understand the detrimental effects of smoking; but that didn’t stop the advertising from continuing. It wasn’t until 1989 that tobacco advertising was restricted in Canada when the Tobacco Products Control Act (TPCA) was passed.
Today, we know of the adverse effects of the products we as marketers advertise, but many (perhaps most) continue to do so. I really began thinking about this when a group of Canadian doctors published an open letter calling for a ban on fossil fuel advertising.
Unlike the early tobacco ads of previous years, the effects of carbon emissions and climate change are well known. We’ve all seen the unsettling before and after pictures of our glaciers. We’ve seen the flooding in BC. The record-high heatwaves and droughts, stronger and more intense hurricanes, and record high sea levels.
So what have we as marketers done? In 2018, global spend on automotive advertising was calculated at US$35.5bn. Advertisements have led to gasoline-powered SUVs and trucks accounting for more than 75% of new car purchases according to Stats Canada. In the US, Ford’s F-Series is consistently the highest-selling vehicle, closely followed by Chevrolet Silverado and Ram trucks.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not fully opposed to the idea of advertising automobiles, but I believe that marketing efforts should be built on clarity, trust, and disclosure. Matter of fact, all marketing efforts can benefit from being conscious and clear on environmental impact. Great marketing isn’t possible without having trust from your target audience, and tiptoeing around the truth isn’t doing us any favors.
Consumers want to support companies that take a stand for the environment and share their values. According to research from Deloitte, “23% of consumers say they will switch to buying products from an organization that shares their values on environmental issues. 42% have changed consumption habits themselves because of their stance on the environment, and 21% have encouraged others to switch to a company whose values align with their opinion on an issue.”
Unfortunately, many companies know these statistics and continue to put on a facade. Companies that have a horrific track record of making poor environmental decisions, use bogus “green” claims. For these companies, their fatal flaw is assuming that the average consumer won’t see through it. One of the very first things I learned in advertising school was to never underestimate the intelligence of your customers. It won’t take long for them to realize that something is rotten in the state of Denmark.
Marketers have a superpower, and what we choose to do with it will impact generations to come. So be the difference-maker in your organization. Be the one who leads conversations on the global impact of marketing efforts. Be conscious of our environment at every stage of your marketing plan. Be honest and open. Live your values. Don’t just post about it, be about it.