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Sustainability and advertising

Anna Gauto, editor at “forum Nachhaltig Wirtschaften”, spoke to Pavan Sukhdev and Florian Haller on advertising and sustainability. Pavan Sukhdev is a former manager at Deutsche Bank and founder of the “Corporation 2020” sustainability campaign. Florian Haller is CEO of the largest independent advertising agency in Europe, the Serviceplan Group. Both will speak at SusCon 2012 in Bonn.

 

Anna Gauto: Advertising does whatever you ask of it. Is advertising blameless?
Florian Haller
: Advertising is not blameless. It is responsible for how a brand is perceived. Our task is to support and guide it with this in mind. For this reason, advertising cannot be blameless.
Pavan Sukhdev:
Advertising is certainly not blameless. Advertisers like to think of themselves as experts, who cater only to the needs of their clients. In order to break through the system of reckless consumption, however, both advertising agencies and the companies they represent must consider the message they are sending out.

 

Today, companies are effectively adopting the concept of sustainability for advertising purposes. How has sustainability become a sign of a company’s prestige?
Haller:
The trend towards a sustainable way of living comes from people, not companies. Well-managed brands are using this desire for sustainability as a business opportunity.
Sukhdev:
We have numerous hard-working writers, scientists, entrepreneurs and citizens to thank for the fact that environmental issues have become so prevalent. How the term sustainability has become so popular, however, is a mystery to me. It is often used incorrectly. It actually describes activities which have been practised for centuries. Companies must be able to account for any claim to being sustainable. This is why the standardisation and regulation of ratings, rankings and seals of quality is necessary.

 

Cigarette advertising shows that selling well does not automatically mean selling something good. Does advertising need a conscience?
Haller:
Advertising per se is an instrument which can be used in many different ways. For this reason, advertising as such is neither moral nor immoral. Advertising is, however, a powerful instrument, which can be used to turn a moral concept into a business opportunity.
Sukhdev: Advertising does need a conscience, but we shouldn’t leave it to the industry alone to develop it. We need to ask ourselves which advertising techniques are excessively misleading and what sort of information should be included on product packaging.

 

There is an increasing demand for ecological products. Has consumer behaviour changed advertising or is it the other way round – has advertising influenced consumers?
Haller:
I don’t think we can overestimate the influence of advertising. The need for sustainability has been shaped by reports on climate change and wildlife conservation as well as numerous food scandals. For two years we have been using the Sustainability Image Score to investigate which companies in Germany are perceived as sustainable. This allows us to determine how the public perception of a company’s sustainability affects its brand value and therefore its corporate success. One important finding is that companies should not only use the opportunity to put sustainability into practice, but to discuss it intensively and professionally, at the same time winning over consumers. They must practise what they preach.
Sukhdev:
When it comes to the ever more popular topic of sustainability, consumers have far more influence over advertising than the other way round. One should encourage the other. Read more