Artificial intelligence, big data and machine learning gave advertising a brand-new definition. Behind these technologies are huge companies that are in the business of capturing and selling our “attention” to advertisers. Persuasion architectures are built at the scale of billions. They target individuals one by one and affect the formation of our values, personal lifestyle, attitudes and, most importantly, consumption habits that scream, “The more you buy, the more successful you are!”
This way, advertising serves corporations that create, finance and benefit from ad campaigns, the real sponsor of which is our planet and its limited resources. So far, advertising has been fueling the culture of consumption in many ways, but is it too late to conduct global social ad campaigns that support a safe and sustainable future?
How Advertising Came To The Dark Side
In 2017, Donald Trump’s digital director disclosed the fact that his team used Facebook to influence people’s decisions during the election, with 50,000 ad variations based on microtargeting and sophisticated advertising campaign controls. Politicians pump billions into political advertising campaigns, with some predicting 2020 could see that total reach $10 billion.
Sadly, the same can’t be said about supporting environmental campaigns.
Additionally, over $200 million a day is spent on advertising that accelerates consumption. Over $1.4 trillion was spent in 2019—more than double what the U.S. spends on defense. In contrast, the U.S. spends 0.007% of its overall budget in order to protect the planet from global warming and environmental changes.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, as noted by Greta Thunberg in her speech at the UN Climate Action summit, if the carbon dioxide waste was reduced to 420 gigatons by January 1, 2018, humanity would have reverted 1.5 degrees global warming with a 67% chance for success. Today, this figure has to decrease to 350 gigatons to barely make a change. In the not so distant future, global warming may lead to an increase in famine, droughts and severe air pollution.
The world requires changes in all areas of human activities—and advertising, in particular, can act as a tool that awakens our realization of the problem and pushes everyone to little day-to-day planet-saving actions.
Responding To The Climate Crisis With High-Impact Ad Messages
Instead of celebrating an environmentally careless lifestyle, brands can take a morally responsible stance. As marketers and advertisers, we can effectively spread the idea of a simpler way of living. We can advertise products that are less damaging to the environment and encourage people to use more forward-looking products.
To make this a reality, we can:
• Warn customers that a service or product may leave a deep carbon trace on Earth.
• Set the necessary quota for advertising freecycle services, electric cars and environmentally friendly alternatives to household chemicals.
• Advertise climate protection commercials for free.
• Create ad campaigns that encourage donations to fight climate change.
• Support environmental activists on social mediums. Environmental campaigns conducted via social media not only convert well, but they also are highly resonant and can be shared, reposted and liked by people all across the world.
The experience of Solidaridad Nederland, for instance, proves that environmental ad campaigns don’t have to be frightening or boring. The international civil society organization visualized a humorous scenario that depicts “life without coffee” in realities where coffee plantations are destroyed by global warming.
What about brands and retailers that comprise the biggest consumption sector? The majority have moved from brick-and-mortar stores to energy-efficient online stores. It’s very likely that soon we will see ”retail of the future” climate-aware companies like Farfetch that find an amazing commercial opportunity in a circular economy. As consumer demand for responsibly sourced clothes grows, it is possible that the main clothes assortment in such stores will soon be made from recycled and repurposed materials.
The first step that big adtech companies and networks can take in a planet-saving direction is to speak to their brands and communicate the importance of such initiatives. The next step may take technology rebuilding. It is necessary to find a way to create advertising technologies that would enable energy to be used safely and to attract clean energy sources.
The small business sector has more freedom to pioneer the latest ecofriendly, low-waste and waste-free technologies (e.g., for building data centers like we did at our company) while building a full-stack infrastructure. Such a measure enables achieving optimal capacity and prevents large consumption of electricity.
The Last Word
If we want to move to a carbon-neutral future and restrain our destructive habits of overconsumption, we need to think about whether we really need as much as we consume.
Advertising and technology have the power to communicate this idea to large audiences at an international level, to inspire and influence people in an engaging way. For advertisers, brands and adtech providers, it is an opportunity to repurpose creative assets for the greater good, find new points of growth and unite financial goals for a sustainable future.