Garrett O’Reilly of Hearts & Science picks his (sustainable) Desert Island Ads

Garrett O’Reilly is MD of Omnicom media agency Hearts & Science UK. Founded in 2016, Hearts & Science clients including GoCompare, Audible, Ocado, Sanofi, Center Parcs, Yakult, Ramsbury Single Estate, Thames Water, Freeview and SEGA.

Desert Island Ads

Sustainability in advertising is a conundrum. Although it’s encouraging to see brands take up green pledges, all too often their promises seem to go the way of greenwashing. It’s hardly a surprise: with three in four consumers believing companies must focus on sustainability after COVID-19, ethical initiatives are smart money.

I recently sat on a panel with AdWeek Europe to debate why every ad should be a green one, both for future-proofing businesses and minimising our carbon footprints.

However, this rings hollow if brands fail to proactively review standards in their supply chains, which is why I’ve selected sustainability-focused Desert Island Ads from brands that already have the authority to speak on the matter. The best green ads are merely an afterthought to existing sustainability best practice, not the entirety.

M&S – ‘Plan A’ campaign

While it wasn’t technically an ad, M&S’s ‘plan A’ campaign was ahead of the curve. Released in 2011, it still sticks with me. They were the first major retailer to use a campaign to outline the steps it was taking for a supply chain overhaul, from manufacturing units right down to farming and agriculture. But the most genius idea was its name: Plan A. There’s no Plan B for our planet.

Levi’s – Buy Better. Wear Longer.

Although many see Levi’s marketing heyday – and even the golden age of advertising – as when Nick Kamen reinvented the laundrette, the Buy Better. Wear Longer. campaign gives it a run for its money in my book. In recent years fast fashion has boomed but Levi’s has remained focussed on the importance of durability in its products and what we wear.

This has been a consistent strategy from day one. The birth of jeans as we know it was when Strauss and Jacobs patented adding rivets to people’s working ‘overalls’ to stop them falling apart. They were focussed on durability and sustainability back then in 1873, so waterless or Project FLX are just some recent chapters. As for the ads about them? Merely brilliant footnotes.

Quorn – helping the planet one bite at a time

Being the staple of plant-based diets can’t be an easy ride when the discourse around veganism and vegetarianism has never been more divisive. But Quorn’s recent ad chimes perfectly for both teams.

The meeting of minds, from a caveman to a savvy businesswoman, uses humour to lighten the tone around the impact of our carbon footprints and steers clear of pushing an agenda. This is important and clever from Quorn – research shows time and time again people are much more likely to be ‘green’ or ‘ethical’ when it’s an added benefit rather than the primary driver. The humour doesn’t labour the environmental benefits or play on people’s guilt, it simply encourages viewers to experiment – even if just once – with what they eat in an accessible and light-hearted way.

Carlsberg – The Seal

The legacy alcohol brand revolutionised drinks packaging with its snap pack. With plastic rings used to hold cans in place for over forty years, it boggles the mind to think of how much sits in the sea and its long-term impact.

But in its recent ad to unveil its partnership with WWF, Carlsberg avoids giving itself a pat on the back. Instead, it normalises a future with less plastic by showcasing a character using its snap pack merely as background detail. Of course, the CGI seal is a heart-warmer to a nation of animal lovers too.

Iceland – palm oil

Recent sustainable messaging in advertising has felt ‘pre-and-post’ Iceland’s Christmas takedown on palm oil.

It put the environmental impact of supermarket sweeps on our collective radars through dulcet rhymes and captivating animations; capturing audiences across every generation despite only existing through YouTube. It’s not often we hear about an ad reaping the benefits after being pulled from linear TV.

This ad came off the back of Iceland’s promise to cut palm oil from its stock. A decision likely to cause logistical and supply chain issues, but a bold example of a brand putting the planet above profit. Despite the ripples it caused online, the ad was once again merely an afterthought – highlighting what Iceland had already been doing.

Co-op Bank in The Guardian

The Co-op Bank has proven that standing up for sustainability doesn’t need a flashy ad campaign, and that sometimes a small gesture travels further. Its long-standing ethical credentials have always been the key point of difference against competitors, so when The Guardian announced it was cutting advertising ties with fossil fuel companies, the Co-op Bank sent its congratulations via a full page ad the next day.

Sustainability is a hot topic for everyone – brands included – and rightly so. But in this current climate it is a dangerous game to play as it will encourage greenwashing and astroturfing. What I like about these particular campaigns is that each brand has already earned the right to take a stance through the internal and external policies they’ve put in place.

The great risk is that with so much noise out there around sustainability, consumers can develop green-blindness – and that’s something the industry needs to avoid at all costs. Quality is more important than quantity and the ads here show how it should be done.

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