#38 Hot or Cold: the campaigns of COP26
My framework for GREAT ads about the climate crisis
Hi, I’m Florencia Lujani and this is a new edition of Cultural Patterns, a newsletter on brands, culture and strategy. I have been MIA but have loads of updates (including being interviewed for a podcast!) so there’s a personal note at the end. Cheers, F x
I got something different for you all today because I’m *excited* to see that many brands have released ads about the climate crisis in the context of COP26, and I want to do something *silly and fun* in the early days of COP before I get a little bit too angry at the incompentence of our world leaders.
We all LOVE to judge creative campaigns, so I’m going to do just that using my own 5-point guide for climate change ads. Introducing: HOT vs COLD. (and yes, I know, this is giving “Graphic design is my passion” vibes, but I’m ok with that :D)
HOT ads include empty promises and increase the sweltering heat of our planet well beyond the safe 1.5C degrees.
COLD ads are cool and collective in nature, and mobilise us to protect our future and planet.
My framework for climate change adverts:
(I’ve used this framework to guide my thinking and for creative briefings, and you can use it too)
It is our responsibility to deliver COLD ads with the right message and avoid adding fuel to the fire of HOT ads. So, how has the industry done?
Hyundai - Expecting Generation One
🤬HOT🔥: This ad is completely forgettable, but what makes it awful is the strategy presenting a highly gendered view of women. The ad solely features pregnant women sharing their wishes and hopes for the world their unborn children will inhabit. There are NO men in this ad, and women are not shown in any other capacity or with any other skill than carrying children. Yes, this ad made me want to scream at the computer. Climate change is already seen as a female issue, and this ad reinforces that, failing to increase the relevance for men (at one point, the voiceover says: “We listened to those carrying the biggest responsibility for humanity”, and the camera zooms in a woman’s belly, honestly wtf 🤦♀️ ). Using children is also another cliché of climate change comms. The brand says that children today will be “The first generation that will live carbon neutral by our efforts against climate change”, which is debatable. The only positive element in this ad is the brand's commitment to achieving carbon neutrality by 2045, but by the looks of this ad, the brand is still stuck in the 1960s - so good luck with that.
Lego - Build the Change
😎COLD🌿: I love this by Lego. It’s a handbook that offers “building instructions for a better world”, which is perfectly on-strategy. In its ten steps, the handbook is simple but doesn’t simplify the issue and frames the climate crisis as a systemic problem that needs action from politicians, lawmakers, businesses and regular people. The handbook is also truthful to Lego’s consumers: it's the result of research and workshops conducted with more than 6,000 children aged 8 to 18 from around the world. It’s also playful, hopeful and action-driven. I would've liked for them to also include the company’s commitments, which are not net-zero (so they’ve still got work to do) but have been approved by the Science-Based Target initiative as consistent with the Paris Agreement.
WaterAid - WaterAid Can
🌎COLD🙌: This ad is certified COLD. It’s got an upbeat tone to it, but it doesn’t shy away from the reality of this massive issue. Most importantly, it doesn’t talk about climate change as a phenomenon far away in nature but places it within our social context in a typical British town by the sea. It’s diverse, it’s inclusive, it’s also honest about what WaterAid can and can not do, and explains how the organisation already helps communities and improves people’s lives. The ad could have included a stronger call to action to mobilise the general public (“We can’t do it without you, learn more at wateraid.org” is too generic) but overall, it works beautifully. Well done to the agency Don’t Panic and Stink Films.
Amazon - The Climate Pledge
🤬HOT🔥: At first glance, this ad does everything right: it demands urgency of action; it's clearly targeted at businesses and not individuals (which is the right approach); it features a diverse cast of children (even when guilty of the cliché); it has some fame potential to it (“I’m only six, you figure it out” is a really strong line); and it proposes a “challenge” for companies to become carbon neutral 10 years ahead of the Paris Agreement’s deadline. The craft is wonderful and the initiative is commendable - there is HUGE power in companies coming together to pledge for a quicker net-zero transition, but when the main organiser is so dodgy and untrustworthy, it cancels out the effort. Amazon is the second-largest retailer on the planet, and in 2020 their carbon emissions increased by 19%, following the 15% increase they also had in 2019, so an upwards trend YoY - it’s unclear how they will get to carbon neutrality in less than 20 years. Plus, things are shady AF: Amazon threatened to fire a few people for speaking publicly about Amazon’s impact on the climate crisis, and it has a dedicated Oil & Gas team that supplies BP, Shell, Exxon Mobil and other fossil fuel companies with machine learning and other AI technologies, and they also proactively pitch to these companies for incremental business. Greenwashing hides the polluting practices of companies under very engaging and inspiring adverts, and it's really hard to consider this ad anything else but that.
United Nations - Don’t Choose Extinction
🌴COLD❄️: UN’s ads have historically been awful - dry, boring, overly corporate, unremarkable… but this one breaks the trend. There’s a mf DINOSAUR in it! It grabs your attention from the first moment, the idea is fresh and clearly communicates what’s at stake: the survival of humanity, because no matter how much damage we do to our planet, the Earth will continue spinning around the Sun’s orbit, just without us. It’s very well executed, the VFX by Framestore Studios delivers that Hollywood quality. It also pokes fun at the UN itself, targeting diplomats and other world leaders who have a pretty bad reputation at the mo, and exposes their hypocrisy in funding fossil fuels. It also ends on a tone of hope, and demands change. The fame element of this ad is off the charts and I just know it will win awards left, right and centre next year.
That’s it for today - I also want to include two other notable mentions:
In the HOT category: E.on and their latest “Climate Action Now” greenwashing campaign which fails to mention that gas is the largest bulk of E.on’s fuel mix *by a lot*. So maybe climate action tomorrow?
In the COLD category: Co-op and their “Coop 26” name change, which is not only brilliant due to its simplicity, but also truthful to their commitments as they recently published a climate change action plan to become a net-zero business by 2040, on track to become the first supermarket in the world to sell fully carbon-neutral own-brand food and drink by 2025, according to The Drum.
I’ll certainly keep an eye on new ads, and if you see any notable mentions, send them my way please, you can reply to this email or contact me on Twitter or Linkedin.
See you next time!
Thanks for reading again. It’s been a while, so if this is the first article you’ve received from me and you can’t remember why you subscribed or realise you’re no longer interested, feel free to unsubscribe. Here’s what I’ve been up to lately:
📚In my last newsletter, I mentioned I was about to submit my Master’s dissertation, it has now been marked, and I’ve been awarded a distinction! Here’s how I reacted, lol.
🎧 Strategy consultant Sean Pillot de Chenecey interviewed me for his podcast ‘The New Abnormal’ about strategy and culture. We talked about the climate crisis, COP26, regenerative business and more, so give it a listen if you fancy.
🌎 I collaborated with The Drum’s Globalization Deep Dive and I talked about why cultural segmentation should be a focus for global marketers.
🇩🇪My article on degrowth economics for business has been published in the German magazine New Business - yay!
What have you been up to? I want to know! Cheers - F x