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How strategic marketing can affect (and help with) climate change

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The first Earth Day was celebrated in 1971. Now, more than a half-century later, the conversation around climate change and preserving the earth’s natural resources has only gotten bigger. 

It’s true that organizations like ours don’t generally find themselves at the center of that conversation — but we don’t see why we shouldn’t be participating. The roots of climate activism are deeply connected to the narratives our industry has told about the earth and how we care for it. Understanding the part advertising and marketing play when it comes to talking about and advocating for climate change policies is essential to cultivating an environmentally responsible society. 

Today, we’re covering a few ways advertising and marketing agencies can rise to the challenge of combating climate change through meaningful and effective methods — without compromising the craft of telling a good story and creating impactful brands.

Find the narrative

Climate change is a loaded term, and one that, despite significant scientific evidence proving its existence and effects, is often construed as a myth. Neutralizing false narratives around climate change is seen across industries as a key to actually implementing policy changes to improve it, but how to actually do that is still a bit murky. It all comes down to telling the right story — and making sure that an audience can see themselves reflected in it. 

In 2021 The University of Pennsylvania Kleinman Center for Energy Policy hosted a conversation with Dr. Matto Mildenberger, a political scientist from the University of California–Santa Barbara. Dr. Mildenberger’s research details the ways in which public perception shapes policy, specifically as it relates to environmental legislation.

Over the course of the discussion, Mildenberger provided a deep dive into his research into whether close contact with environmental disasters like flooding and wildfires encourages people to be more concerned with climate action. The short answer? Not really.

But what does affect how people act toward climate change policy? Turns out it’s integrating climate change policies into other community advancements, which more effectively ties the planet’s outcome to other strategic pushes for a better society.

“We’ve actually been empirically finding that integrating [climate] benefits. . . into a COVID recovery package, or integrating minimum wage policy into a climate package. . . have increasing returns,” Mildenberger explained. “These are making everyone happier.”

So how does that translate into modern marketing? When working with clients who are striving to make an environmental impact, either with internal changes to their operations processes or with their work in their surrounding communities or industries, tying these efforts to broader scale initiatives seems like the right move. Illustrating the connection between what an organization is doing for the planet and what it’s doing for the people who live on it outside of environmental protections provides the strongest link to real change.

How this actually gets implemented will vary, but research indicates that seeing the big picture of human impact rather than just the brush strokes of, say, a new recycling program will make campaigns centered on environmental action more successful. Find ways to tell stories that encompass how climate activism affects efforts to promote anti-racist work, equality, and representation. Not only does scientific research tell us these things are all connected, but these narratives are much more powerful when it comes to inspiring real change.

Counter “greenwashing”

“Greenwashing” — or the practice of making false or misleading claims about a product or brand’s environmental impact — has been around for decades. The term itself was actually first introduced in the 1980s, but as environmentalism has become even more prevalent in recent years, it’s becoming much more common (and even harder to spot).

Much of the current greenwashing trends is a response to a growing consumer base demanding more environmentally conscious products and services — which we applaud. Everything in our industry is affected by consumer insight and demand, and we know as well as anyone that meeting those asks separates a mediocre brand from a stellar one. And there’s proof that marketing campaigns that emphasize their green initiatives tend to rake in a larger profit (which, as a business, we’re also a fan of).

So how are we meant to balance the two — turning a profit while also delivering products to customers that meet their expectations when it comes to environmental impact? While telling the truth should be a given, it’s worth repeating. Embellishing climate initiatives to make them seem grander or more widespread than they actually are will destroy trust with audiences and make it much more difficult to scale green operations in the future.

Finding ways to educate consumers about greenwashing itself can also be effective. Consumers want to know how to spot greenwashing — and they’re getting better at it. Agencies can leverage influence and market shares in ways that educate an audience and thereby stand above competitors rather than simply pushing a product that’s labeled “greener” than another. By providing additional value through education, campaigns can work double duty in both encouraging consumer investment and developing trust in the brand as a whole.

Push collective action, not individual guilt

Branding climate change action can often involve a healthy serving of guilt, especially for individual consumers. This is in sharp contrast to the larger conversations surrounding conservation efforts that detail the role larger governmental and corporate entities are playing in managing natural resources.

Don’t get us wrong — our Stoke folks love reusable shopping bags and recycling just like everyone else! But marketing efforts with an environmental focus should acknowledge the ways corporations, not people or smaller communities, are generally responsible for large-scale climate change. By scaling the conversation to include widespread actions needed from the big guys as well as how individual people can do their part in their communities, marketing initiatives can help brands take up the right amount of space within the environmental movement.

Earth Day every day

Pushing for a more sustainable, more livable Earth for everyone is no small feat. And we know that the part we play in the grand scheme of combating climate change is still significant. We’re committed to finding innovative ways to tell the story of environmental efforts in ways that are both truthful and impactful — and we’d love for you to join us.

Ready to tell a story that’ll inspire change? We are too. Contact us today to get started.