Agencies of change: How sustainable marketing agencies can help build a better future.

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Marketing agencies make unlikely heroes.

Let’s face it, they’re hardly renowned for being forces of good. They’ve been the tarter-upper of, and conduit for, some of society’s most harmful products: cigarettes, alcohol. Liquorice. 

And while the mockers have largely been put on advertising booze and cigs, the gambling juggernaut shows no signs of stopping. Ipsos revealed that 85% of 11-24 year-olds reported seeing gambling ads on TV, paving the way for a generation of addicts to come. 

Yay, marketing.

Then there’s the simple matter of trust. Marketing – and, in particular, advertising – is about as well-trusted as Matt Hancock explaining why he was late for his tea. An eye-watering 96% of us don’t trust what influencers say. While the American Association of Advertising Agencies reported that just 4% of consumers believe advertisers and marketers practice integrity. Ouch.

So it might not make immediate sense to paint us marketing agencies as a key player in the fight for social good and a more sustainable future.

And yet, we could be.

Sustainable Marketing: if we're in it together, we need to act together

When it comes to a greater global need for sustainability, the message is usually one of personal responsibility. If we, as individuals, recycle more and use less, we’ll save the world. If we, as individuals, buy from ethical brands, we’ll end child labour. 

Problem is, it isn’t individuals causing the problems. It’s companies. It’s the systems in place that make it difficult for us normal, busy people – who often don’t have the time or budget – to make ethical choices in the way we’d like.

Personal responsibility is important. But the big sustainable changes have to come from businesses.

Because what real use is dear old Gerrald at no. 7 getting a composter when 71% of global emissions are caused by just 100 companies? How can 17-year-old Gina really shop ethically when an organic t-shirt is ten times the cost of a Primark alternative?

Yes, we should exercise personal responsibility in this planetary plight. We should recycle and reuse. We should do more to use less. 

But a more progressive approach would be for companies to offer better choices – to pay their workers a fair wage and to green up their act, so we can all make more responsible buying decisions. 

And us humble marketing agencies can help them do it.

Agencies as... eco-lobbyists?

As agencies, we have the ears of CEOs, CMOs, MDs and other important acronyms. Which makes us kind-of lobbyists. We can impress upon the corporate decision-makers the need to make products that don’t harm the environment. We can explain how serving up vegan sausage rolls (along with clever PR campaigns) can boost business and challenge supposedly dyed-in-the-wool buyer behaviour. 

As the climate change emergency heightens, it’s a marketing agency’s responsibility to suggest best sustainable practice.

Our job, of course, is still to sell. But, increasingly, our job is to create more socially conscious products – to make companies sell better so we can all buy better. 

Not least because the public care about this stuff:

In an attempt to combat climate change, a quarter of Brits aim to be meat-free by the end of 2021. While nearly half of fast fashion retailers have seen a decrease in sales in 2021. 

And, most crucially of all, 88% of us want business to help us make a difference. Most of us understand the need to make sustainable and ethical buying decisions, but we don’t have the power to do so easily. This is where businesses – and their marketing agencies – need to pull their weight.

Money Talks

If there’s a consumer demand to shop more responsibly, then it makes sense for business to meet that demand. 

A good sustainable marketing agency should impress upon their client the need to meet the growing demand of conscious consumerism. Remember, marketing isn’t just clever messaging and eye-catching design. It’s price, product, promotion, place and people – and agencies can suggest adjusting these five levers to their clients in ways that push sustainability. 

Increasingly, a responsibility of your marketing agency is to uncover, encourage, and promote your sustainability practices.

Can we, as agencies, lobby our clients to price their organic t-shirts to make them more accessible? Can we suggest foods move to recyclable packaging? Can we convince industries traditionally seen as pollutants to invest in carbon off-setting? Can we make creative campaigns that extol the benefits of paying staff better wages?

As sustainable marketing agencies, we can. And, as people of conscience, we absolutely should.

Because the real agents of change in the fight for a better future aren’t based upon our behaviour as individuals. They’re based on our behaviour as businesses.

The more we can encourage our clients to be more ecologically and socially responsible, the better we’ll all be. And if such altruism isn’t reward enough, we should impress upon our clients that, at a time when more and more of us really care about what we buy – and who we buy it from – caring about our collective future is one heck of a competitive advantage.