CSR in Advertising: How Brands are Showcasing Sustainability

Though tech billionaires are in a race to colonize Mars, the unfortunate truth is that there is no planet B for the foreseeable future. Earth is our home and we must do everything in our power to protect its finite resources and inhabitants.

Today, more and more consumers are demanding transparency from brands about their environmental footprints and goals. A 2020 survey found that four in five people in the UK are planning to purchase from businesses that are making a concerted effort to be environmentally friendly Meanwhile, nearly 70% of consumers in the United States and Canada think it is important that a brand is sustainable.

Advertising is one way for brands to promote their commitment to the environment. Increasingly, companies are leveraging their creative to:

1. Introduce sustainable products and services

Advertisements for a sustainable product or service typically highlight the benefits to the environment and the consumer to encourage buyers to seek out the brand.

During Bowl LVI, automotive ad spots predominantly focused on electric vehicles. Kia’s “Robo Dog” ad was one of the highest scoring in System1’s analysis of effective ads during the big game. Chevy, General Motors and others also put the spotlight on their EV models in a quest to drive interest among eco-conscious consumers. With 2030 set as the deadline to end the sale of petrol and diesel cars in the UK, advertisements touting electric are sure to see a similar rise in the years to come.

2. Highlight corporate initiatives and progress

Sometimes brands take a less product-driven approach when they want to communicate sustainability. These types of ads promote specific promises these companies have made, goals they are working towards and how they’re helping to make the world a better place.

For example, many manufacturers are actively working towards reducing their carbon footprints. A third of UK brands plan to be carbon neutral by the end of 2023 and other sustainability initiatives are also being prioritized. For example, the “A Little Help Is Tesco” ad demonstrates the numerous ways the retailer is helping communities and shoppers, including working with suppliers to remove 1 billion pieces of plastic from packaging.

Meanwhile, in the United States, P&G’s “#ItsOurHome” spot outlines the company’s commitment to “being carbon neutral for the decade across all of its operations.” FedEx’s “Delivering for Earth” ad also promotes a carbon neutral goal and Budweiser’s “Earth Day” ad notes that “Every Budweiser is brewed with 100% renewable electricity.”

3. Encourage a positive change in behaviour

You’ve likely heard environmentalists propose “If everyone planted a tree, recycled, stopped eating meat or switched to electric cars…” in an effort to highlight how taking action can positively impact the planet. While achieving change at this scale is impossible, it is possible for brands to demonstrate how individuals can shift their behaviours for the better.

It might seem counterintuitive that Patagonia’s “Buy Less, Demand More” campaign cautions shoppers to think twice before purchasing new clothes, but the brand is widely known for its commitment to the environment. The ad offers strategies for reducing textile waste, like repairing worn out clothes and passing garments down to others once they’re outgrown.

Meanwhile, Ikea’s UK-based “Fortune Favours the Frugal” advert uses a meteor of rubbish hurtling towards Earth to encourage viewers create less waste and embrace moderation. McDonald’s Norway also recently brought the topic of trash to the forefront of consumers’ minds to keep its bags, wrappers and cups from ending up on the street with the OOH campaign “Take away your take away.”

Lastly, P&G’s “Tide Cold Callers” series of ads cleverly leverages celebrities to shape behaviours. Rapper Ice-T and wrestler “Stone Cold” Steve Austin make cold calls to other well-known figures, like Gordon Ramsay and Vanilla Ice, informing them that washing clothes in cold water can save households money and help the environment. Tide’s not pushing a new product, it’s merely encouraging consumers to rethink how they wash clothes (hopefully with Tide detergent).

4. Announce partnerships for the planet

Brands often like to team up with organisations that are dedicated to protecting the planet as a way to demonstrate their ongoing commitment. Ads can highlight these partnerships, which sometimes entail a matching donation, special event or even a call for consumers to sign a petition or learn more via a dedicated campaign landing page.

It’s not uncommon for car advertisements to show a vehicle tackling tough off-road terrain. Subaru’s ad for its Re-foresting Project shows one of its models driving through a forest to deliver trees to be planted in an area that has been decimated by wildfires. Subaru notes that the company and its retailers are working with the National Forest Foundation to replant 1 million trees.

This is just one example of how a brand can dedicate a portion of its media spend to ads that go beyond product messaging. Though, in order for an alliance to feel genuine, it must have a relevant connection to the brand or it may be perceived as greenwashing.

Today, brands are being called upon to have a greater purpose. With climate change and other environmental issues becoming increasingly dire, many consumers want companies to take a stand regarding sustainability issues. Advertising is one way to communicate the progress that brands are making.

System1’s upcoming green report will analyse how brands are promoting their environmental efforts and share best practices for creating effective campaigns that centre around sustainability. Stay tuned for more details.

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