Who doesn't love a great ad campaign? The sheer genius of a well constructed ad is like the world's best chocolate. But just because you are clever doesn't mean you should use it for evil.
Recently a USA based group of creative agencies, Clean Creatives awarded gongs across 10 different categories for outstanding creative work in the climate space. The awards recognised agencies for messaging, strategy, websites and campaigns. Bill McKibben, when presenting one of the awards said:
“IF THERE’S ANYTHING I KNOW ABOUT AD AGENCIES IT’S THAT IT’S AN INDUSTRY THAT LOVES PRIZES AND AWARDS OF ALL KINDS. IT’S AN INDUSTRY THAT HAS MORE AWARDS CEREMONIES PER CAPITA THAN ANY ON EARTH. SO I’M SURE THEY’LL TAKE THIS STATUETTE AND PUT IT PROUDLY IN THEIR TROPHY CASE.”
It is however, hard to imagine the recipients of any of these F Awards showcasing their trophies. These were special purpose awards - for bullshitting about climate change. Called the F-List Awards, Clean Creatives documented 91 ad and PR agencies working with fossil fuel companies. The public report compares holding company pledges for climate action with their work to greenwash their clients’ image and spread climate misinformation.
The awards were designed to take down the ad industry’s worst greenwashers:
"THIS YEAR, PR AND ADVERTISING AGENCIES WENT ABOVE AND BEYOND, ASSISTING FOSSIL FUEL CLIENTS IN THE DESTRUCTION OF OUR PLANET FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS LIKE NEVER BEFORE. THESE GREAT STORYTELLERS DESERVE TO BE CALLED OUT – SORRY, CELEBRATED – BEFORE THE ICE CAPS MELT."
Clean Creatives was created because they understand the power creative agencies have in driving public narrative, consumption - and even unconsumption. Climate justice activist and F-List Awards presenter Tolmeia Gregory summed it up:
“THE CREATIVE INDUSTRY IS ONE THAT HAS THE POWER TO SHAPE WHAT THE REST OF THE WORLD VIEWS AS THE MOST DESIRABLE BUT IT HAS A DARK AND TRAGIC SIDE TO IT, ONE WHICH IS COMPLICIT IN FUELING CLIMATE DISASTER."
We have republished this open letter from 70 young advertising and PR professionals, calling for an end to contracts with fossil fuel companies as it outlines the deadly power of creative agencies and the importance of calling out those who are knowingly and literally fanning the flames of our own destruction.
We are tomorrow’s leaders of advertising, PR, and the rest of the marketing industry. We are creators, strategists, dreamers, and doers. We are current students, recent grads, interns, junior creatives, and rising stars.
The biggest threat to our future is climate change. The world’s twenty biggest polluters are fossil fuel companies, with the entire energy sector responsible for creating 75% of carbon emissions. They are blocking necessary and urgently needed climate action.
And our industry is helping them do it.
We’re angry. We’re afraid. And we refuse to sit back and watch it happen.
We, tomorrow’s leaders, call on all agencies, from the holding companies to the independent shops, to stop working with fossil fuel clients. This means oil giants as well as the alphabet soup of trade associations and front groups.
No more marketing climate denial and disinformation.
No more setting up fake front groups.
No more amplifying lies about how action will hurt the economy.
No more greenwashing oil, gas, and coal companies, aiding them in their attempts to dodge pollution safeguards and block meaningful change.
We won’t be able to reduce, reuse, recycle our way out of tomorrow’s catastrophe - because it is already happening today. Over the last few years, we’ve seen the devastating impacts of climate-related disasters, like record-breaking wildfires, droughts, heatwaves, and hurricanes. Bold action is needed, at all levels and segments of society. The time has come for our industry to do its part.
Founders, agency heads, and leadership teams must take a stand and say no more. We know this won’t be easy for everyone. But since when has a winning firm shrank from a challenging brief? We don’t care if you do it for the right reasons, or because you want to be quoted in the NYT or Adweek. Or even because you want a competitive advantage when it comes to recruiting us.
We, tomorrow’s leaders, want to starve the fossil fuel industry of the best minds — the minds we hope to learn from — and the best marketing that money can buy, from the best agencies in the world.
We want to avoid having to make the impossible choice between working on a client that is actively and negatively impacting our future, and turning down a chance to break into a competitive industry.
You had a future, and so should we.
We call on everyone else in advertising too: the directors and the CDs and the supes and the mids and the brand new junior creatives. Challenge your leadership. Agitate for change. Advocate for yourselves and the generations to come. Internal pressure may achieve what public pressure can not.
And, if your circumstances don’t allow you to step forward, do what you can. Ask to switch to non-fossil fuel clients. Turn down fossil fuel projects. Sign the Clean Creatives pledge. Raise the consideration within your team, or even just yourself, that you have the option to reject work that is killing you and everyone you know.
Image: Noah Buscher, Unsplash | Quotes: Clean Creative