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    It’s time to deploy behavior change campaigns to tackle the climate crisis

    Matt Bourn, director of communications at the Advertising Association (AA), weighs in on why we need to start tackling the climate crisis through communications.

    The responsibility of any communications director is to ride shotgun and be ready to step into a media appearance or speaking opportunity. Often, this happens last minute and you find yourself on national TV or at the sharp end of a journalist interview.

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    This April, I found myself appearing in the House of Lords providing evidence to the environment committee on the role of advertising and communications to help tackle climate change. I sat where Chris Whitty had sat the day before.

    I won’t hide the fact it was the toughest two hours of my professional life being cross-examined by 15 lords and baronesses, many of whom have deeply entrenched views about our industry’s work. The committee’s chair told me afterwards I’d earned my money that day.

    The resulting report has just been published and the headline is all about the need for behavior change. It highlights the advertising industry’s fundamental role in helping to make this happen. There’s a great deal more at stake than lost sales should we fail.

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    The big question discussed with the committee was where responsibility lies for the behavior change campaign. The timing of my appearance was fortuitous – the week before, we’d published a report analyzing the Covid pandemic’s effect on ad spend during 2020 and 2021.

    A key finding was how the UK government became the country’s number one advertiser during the public health crisis. This messaging was strongly supported by the many brands, media owners and their agency partners that helped repeat and reinforce those life-saving pieces of information. Forget Orson Wells and his War of the Worlds radio experiment back in October 1938. This, I believe, is the most powerful piece of mass behavior change communication yet – our industry helped the government dramatically change the daily routines of the UK population in a matter of days.

    As the cost of living crisis bites and the government looks to improve issues such as energy efficiency, we can maximize the opportunities and help tackle two crises. Our responsibility is to respond with brilliant creativity and strategic and technical excellence, always remaining true to the ask of the Advertising Standards Authority to be legal, decent, honest and truthful.

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    Thinking about this and where government fits, there is a place for behavior change campaigns that directly (and indirectly) lead to decarbonization, such as the energy efficiency campaign we anticipate this winter. There are many nudges government could support – towards the use of transport options, towards the selection of healthier eating choices.

    To give the government due credit, the decision to ban the sales of petrol cars by 2030 has seen the share of ad spend for EVs and alternatives rise from 7% in 2018 to 73% by end of 2021. That’s way ahead of real-world sales as companies ready a mature market of petrol vehicle owners for the move to electric. There’s room for the government to be bolder. Who in advertising wouldn’t want to work on the brief for Great British Energy, the idea unveiled by Sir Keir Starmer at last month’s Labour party conference?

    There’s room too for industry and businesses to lead. More ad spend data, this time for meat products, shows 2022 will likely be a tipping point year for the promotion of plant-based alternatives. More than 50% of all ad spend will be promoting tasty alternative options, which can only help as people are encouraged to reduce their meat consumption. The trick will be whether sales follow – there’s no government-led restriction on meat consumption coming any time soon.

    Advertising sits at the heart of all this behavior change. We have the customer insights to inform business developments in sustainability and we can deliver messages about exciting new things to people. Our work can help us all live more sustainable lives, without necessarily impacting upon enjoyment or fulfillment.

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    Meanwhile, interest in Ad Net Zero is exploding and that’s a good thing. We’re showcasing the initiative this week at Advertising Week New York, led by the new USA director John Osborn with fantastic support from the Department for International Trade.

    That’s followed swiftly by the ANA’s CMO Summit, where many of the US’s top marketers will be discussing Ad Net Zero and industry-wide collaboration for change. Next up is support from PwC at its Media Summit in London, the IAA at Global Creativity4Better Conference in Bucharest, and our Ad Net Zero Global Summit on November 9 and 10. The latter is two days packed with everything we can possibly share about the initiative as we push forward to change the way we work and the work we make. Registration is open and we’d love for you to join us!

    We have a goal at Ad Net Zero – to make every ad a green ad and to do that as quickly as we can as an industry, here in the UK and around the world. The support is growing, the need for behavior change campaigns is growing. With everyone in advertising’s support, we will get there.

    Matt Bourn is communications director of the Advertising Association.

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