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The rise of ‘Advalism’

The rise of ‘Advalism’

What businesses can do when activism starts targeting advertising.

Recently, you may have noticed that activists and consumers have been adding their own spin to certain billboards, posters and bus ads. There’s been a concerted effort to tackle the communications aspect of companies as they continue to push out empty words on their sustainable ‘efforts’.

Over the past decade, we’ve seen an exponential uptake in green initiatives, backed by Gen Z who are intent on sweeping aside the half truths and fluff. They want to know what lies behind the vague promises and stock visuals. And they are all too happy to call out the non-committal stances of brands not making it clear.  

It’s an old fashioned view, but brands have seen a binary choice between being sustainable or profitable. But for modern economics to work, we have to have our cake and eat it too - or at least rethink our commercial models in a way that makes that possible.

A sustainable business isn’t one that plants trees in the Amazon while hacking them down in the Boreal. It’s a business with a model that works over the long term, and operates within parameters that don’t exploit what we can’t replace. That’s the goal. Not whack-a-mole PR, and treating symptoms not causes.

Getting there is probably the toughest challenge we have, but it’s the most important one, too. 

It’s 2022 now, and sustainable business is no longer an option - it’s a requirement. It’s also not the sustainability that these ‘progressive’ audiences buy, it’s seeing the impact from actual changes that have been made across your business. It’s not personal, but people don’t trust companies to do the right thing - they need to prove they’re actually doing it. And well.

So what can businesses do to tackle the tide of spray paint wielding citizens who’ve (rightly) had enough of the gaslighting? Start here:

Don’t be paralysed by getting it ‘wrong’

In the face of increasing pressure to meet sustainability targets, companies can be so frightened about getting it wrong that they don’t say anything at all. An honest and open approach can be the foil to this. No one’s got it right yet - you just need to show you’re trying.

Make it positive 

Awareness of the problem is not the problem. If anyone isn’t clear on how bad the situation we’re in is, they’ve clearly been living under a rock. The media is swamped with fear laden campaigns - don’t add to them, show a better future.

Don’t condescend

People are savvy to false claims and empty PR stunts. They won’t be fooled by fake commitments to making a difference. Even Oatly was called out for overstating what one climate expert said about cutting dairy and meat from your diet to reduce your environmental impact. The poster child.

Communicate properly

When talking about CO2 emissions, it’s hard to visualise what 50 grams or 20,000 tonnes of carbon really means. Provide context and make your message relevant. Taking it from numbers and stats, to real effect on the world is what good communicators do well.

Raise the bar

Expectations for sustainability are rising, so communicating about reusable cups, recycling paper, or turning the lights off at weekends doesn't cut it anymore. Show investors how sustainable growth is the backbone of your future strategy and prove it to consumers too. Sustainability isn’t a gimmick, it’s a way of doing business. 

Know thyself

Sustainability efforts aren’t one size fits all. Every business is unique, has unique challenges, and unique opportunities. So don’t look to ‘best practise’, look within - understand your organisation and what you can do that’s unique to you. Just because company X is doing Y, it doesn’t mean it’ll work for you. We’re biased, but we’d recommend getting expert help.

All in all we feel it’s helpful to see the ‘mobilisation of the people’ as a very positive thing, rather than a risk. They’re bringing the fuel that societal progress needs, and businesses should see it as such. From the suffragettes, to the civil rights movement, to the French revolution - change wasn’t always comfortable. But it was necessary.

If your organisation is taking a real and proper stance on sustainability, you’ve got nothing to worry about - talking about it is your ‘job to be done’. That’s where we come in.

Get in touch. We can help.