This article was first published: Sustainable Brands



This Tuesday afternoon breakout session saw Thomas Kolster, founder and creative director at the Goodvertising Agency, and Kerry Eustice, Editorial Partnerships Editor at The Guardian Sustainable Business, share their perspectives on changing the conversation around sustainability values.

Early on, Kolster asserted that sustainability advertising is not doing enough to drive change, as it tends to be less engaging than other advertising messages. He and Eustice discussed dos, don’ts and new approaches that could change the way the message of sustainability is communicated.
Eustice demonstrated that threatening communication on climate change was causing people to put their heads in the sand — rather than inspiring them to take action — while research shows that inserting laughter into the business environment can be a positive, powerful and persuasive tool.
The Guardian team leveraged humour earlier this year with its ‘Too Hot to Handle?’ campaign, a collaboration with Ben & Jerry’s aimed at informing and engaging readers on climate change. They enlisted the help of popular comics from College Humour and Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre to produce multi-media content to make climate change more accessible and shareable to engage audiences, especially younger sectors of society. The “Save America’s Dumps” video, for example, addressed the issue of American’s unsustainable levels of garbage production. They used satire to show that if American’s don’t stop recycling, the garbage dumps could be lost.
The campaign’s combination of satire and powerful images brought in 480,000 page views, engaged 41 percent new readers and led 24 percent to explore related articles. Eustice said the key was working with experienced comedy groups who had their own following and knew how to take headlines from the news and make them humourous.
The session established that comedy in sustainability communication can work across borders to pass on different messages: For example, ‘Dumb Ways to Die’, a viral video produced by Australian train company Metro Trains Melbourne, gives examples of reckless accidents as a public safety warning. The video has notched up over 115 million views to date.
Thought-provoking adverts can get the message across effectively. According to a Stanford University study, positive tweets are one-third more likely to be passed on and go viral. However, there is a fine balance that may tip toward inappropriate and insensitive humour. Case in point: Hyundai’s 2013 ad for its ix35 low-emissions vehicle, which showed a man failing to attempt suicide, was deemed to be taking the humour and sustainability promotion too far.
Kolster offered two lessons in making sustainability communication and marketing work for a male audience:
1. Add a dose of testosterone to sustainability ads. “How can we create clever sustainability marketing that appeals to men?” he asked. Most sustainability communication is tweaked toward female values, using emotional language and portrayed with typical associations to nature. This tends to alienate men from getting involved in sustainability.
Sustainability communicators should use insights into men’s human nature to gear their sustainability message to a male audience. Kolster offered a William Bernbach quote in support: “Nothing is so powerful as an insight into human nature… what compulsions drive a man, what instincts dominate his action. If you know these things about a person, you can touch him at the core of his being.”
Kolster then showed examples of powerful ads by typical macho-centric messaging such as “The Marlborough Man” commercials and ‘Old Spice’ deodorant ads.
The tone and creative language from such male-focused communication can be applied to sustainability products and services targeting men. The packaging, choice of brand colours, tag lines and overall message can veer toward a more masculine approach to create more potent and testosterone-friendly campaigns.
2. Embrace Technology and Look to the Future. “Why do we look back to talk about sustainability?” Kolster asked. When positioning a sustainability product or brand, it is important to find a unique angle and be original. He demonstrated how many brands draw on the story of going back to a better past, embracing nature and going down the eco-friendly route as seen in Chipotle’s animated film, ‘The Scarecrow’. But by doing so, are brands alienating those customers who are not familiar with sustainability?
Asking ‘What does tomorrow look like?’ could shift the conversation to look at the future face of sustainability.
Nissan’s campaign for its electric Leaf car puts a spotlight on the sleek, modern car with the latest technological innovations.
Kolster pointed to the opportunity for marketers to fly the technology and innovation flag, honing in on the newest, smartest innovations as a hook for sustainability.


© 2020 Thomas Kolster. All Rights Reserved.

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