When advertising faces sustainability, new pathways are made possible

Brands, seen as providing products and services, can be active in sustainable transformation or remain, as many are, part of the problem of over consumption and pollution.

After all brands and sustainability have a commonality – they communicate with people through advertising. Thus, we see more and more ads that include sustainability messaging within.

But can they truly work together? Advertising’s purpose is to sell more while sustainability, in a nutshell, strives for more responsible consumption. Can advertising support a more sustainable future and brand growth?

Food for thought comes from a paper authored by Mathieu Reboul, Director, Global Products and Innovation, Creative Excellence, Ipsos – a global research organisation.

Ipsos reviewed it’s databank on advertising and found that people expect advertisers to act for sustainability; creating a challenge for brands to balance communication for a more sustainable future with the potential to grow sales and market share.

Said Mathieu: “Whether we want it or not, the sustainability challenge is taking up more and more space in our lives and in the media.”

An analysis of Ipsos’ global database identified the main areas of sustainability addressed in advertising as environmental and social claims, resulting in five key indicators.

Don’t just claim sustainability. Execute the ad the right way.

Ads with such claims were found to perform the same as those without. Since everyone is talking about the same thing, it becomes vital to strike the right balance between sustainability messaging and brand focus.

The Right Balance 

The sustainability angle varies. It was found that ads blending sustainability with brand messaging performed better than ads focusing solely on sustainability claims.

As data shows, focusing solely on sustainability claims often doesn’t convey a new message and could ‘lag’ in the entertainment factor.

“The challenge for brands resides in balancing the communication for a more sustainable future with the potential to grow sales and market share for the brand,” says Mathieu. 

Pull – Don’t push.

Pushing people into, for example, recycling, is pushing them into doing something they may not want to or plan to do. Such ads generally have a lower effective average, albeit driven by ‘increase of choice intent’.

Pulling into something can be focused on people themselves, their problems and offering them solutions. People like to be heard and like easy solutions.

The key here is empathy – one of the three pillars of creativity alongside creative experiences and ideas – a key driver of advertising effectiveness.

Face the Issue.

Acknowledging the problem can be a good start if a brand wants to be a part of the solution. For the traditional advertising set-up of problem to solution, data shows this approach can work with sustainability and other serious issues.

A Corona ad confronted the problem of plastic in the ocean with great visuals and ending on a note of being part of the solution as in its ‘net zero plastic footprint’. (See video)


As one of the key drivers of advertising effectiveness, data does suggest that believability is lagging behind in sustainability ads, is under utilised and could be more important in driving good results.

Not making claims credible in an ad can risk brands being accused of green washing and facing a media backlash.

People want brands to act for a better world and to communicate about it. Ads need to offer new, entertaining and relevant experiences for greater effectiveness. To simply include a sustainability claim often isn’t quite enough.

As the world moves in the direction of a challenging transition toward a sustainable future, it behoves brands to embark on this journey with great advertising.

So the answer to the question, can advertising and sustainability work together, seems to be: Indeed they can, and should do so as the data indicates.

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