The coming reckoning for agencies

Now is the time for marketers to take responsibility and take action on the climate crisis.

Jake Dubbins, Co-Chair of the Conscious Advertising Network and Media Bounty


‘Did we aggressively fight against some of the science? Yes.’ 

‘Did we join some of these shadow groups to work against some of the early efforts?  Yes that’s true’

ExxonMobil lobbyist Keith McCoy last week was caught on camera in an undercover investigation by Unearthed and Channel 4 revealing the lengths that one of the biggest fossil fuel companies in the world went to in order to delay action on climate change. The smoke from this particular gun is making it hard to breathe.

Who is the ‘we’ that McCoy refers to? ExxonMobil does not act on its own. The five largest publicly owned oil companies in the world spend hundreds of millions a year on lobbying activities. In 2019 InfluenceMap reported that the big 5 – Exxon, Shell, BP, Chevron and Total – spent approximately $200 million lobbying to delay, control or block policies to tackle climate change.

This money does not just go on the salaries for internal lobbyists like Mr McCoy. It also goes to agencies in our industry to act on their behalf. To lobby and to spread climate science misinformation. To deflect through misleading advertising. Climate science misinformation is quickly accelerating up the political and media agenda and is about to explode.

If a reminder was needed about the scale of the problem that every single one of us now faces then the extreme heat in the North West of the US and Canada is a literal and metaphorical hot blast of reality. As Roger Harrabin wrote earlier this week ‘it was not because new record temperatures were set - that happens from time to time. No, it's because old records were smashed so dramatically.’ The new temperature record set in the Canadian town of Lytton was 4.6 degrees higher than the old one.

The climate is not going to wait for society to get their act together. Unlike Exxon we as marketers now need to aggressively support the science and take responsibility for our role in shaping the narrative.

Jake Dubbins, Co-Chair of the Conscious Advertising Network and Co-Founder of Media Bounty

Baroness Bryony Worthington, a lead author on the UK's Climate Change Act reacted: "Concerned scientists are no longer concerned - they are freaked out. They're worrying there might not be a 'safe landing' on the climate. We are working on the idea of safe carbon budgets (the amount of carbon we can put into the atmosphere without badly disrupting the climate). But what if there is no safe carbon budget? What if the 'safe' carbon budget is zero. We can't sugar-coat the potential realities of this."

I’m sorry. What? ‘What if there is no safe carbon budget?’ Should we start to panic now?

Carbon budgets are an estimate of the total quantity of CO2-equivalent emissions that can be allowed in order to maintain a 66% chance of staying within the Paris Agreement target of capping global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius this century. Keeping temperatures to 1.5 – 2 degrees as per the Paris Agreement is based on an agreement that emissions can continue for a period of time. The fact that even this is now being questioned is extremely scary.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will release its next report on August 9th. This report will provide the latest assessment of scientific knowledge about the warming of the planet, projections for future warming and its impacts on the climate system. Part of the report was leaked at the beginning of the month, revealing for the first time that climate misinformation is of significant concern to scientists.  

‘The IPCC report said disinformation tactics have created “risks to society” because they have prevented governments from responding to the dangers from climate change.’

Pardon. Does this mean that acting on the advice of those in our industry, the fossil fuel industry has succeeded in preventing governments from acting on climate?

This issue is about to become very public indeed.

On Channel 4 News last week the Chair of the House Oversight Environmental Subcommittee, Congressman Ro Khanna from California called the lobbying revelations revealed by Channel 4 about the actions of Exxon Mobil a ‘bombshell’. He also said that letters were going right now to companies to testify in front of congress in a hearing on Climate Mis and Disinformation. The focus will inevitably be on the big Oil and Gas companies, but the heat is going to be turned up on those agencies acting for those companies, advising them on how to delay action on climate.

What does this mean for our industry?

The clock is ticking. For those providing the advice to fossil fuel companies over the years, it may be worth ditching the zoom shorts and digging out the suit because appearances in front of Congress in the US and Parliamentary select committees in the UK will not be too far away.

For everyone else you should consider the below:

1.     Examine your conscience and look your family and friends in the eye. Ask yourself the question – In 10 years time do I really want to look back and say that I helped delay meaningful action on climate change?

2.     If you are a Media Agency sign up to the IPA’s Climate Media Charter. The carbon calculator  created by Mediacom, the #ChangeTheBrief initiative from the Purpose Disruptors and Media Bounty’s ‘Change the Narrative’ Report which focuses on climate misinformation are brilliant tools to adopt into your agency practices right now.

3.     Support the Advertising Association’s Ad Net Zero work. Pay particular attention to Action 5: Harnessing advertising’s power to support consumer behaviour choice. It is all very well having the most amazing carbon neutral shoot for our ads but if those ads are for Saudi Aramco then we are literally rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic.

4.     Give your team more volunteering time in their contracts and encourage them to volunteer for environmental charities. In our contracts the number of days is 5 per year. Over the years we have volunteered hundreds of days and done pro bono work creative and media work for World Land Trust, Greenpeace, Fridays for the Future, Rewriting Extinction, the Conscious Advertising Network and more. I don’t care if this comes across as ‘virtue signalling’. If an agency of 25 people can do it, so can you.

5.     Our research partner, Cheq, found that 70% of safe climate content is unmonetisable. Take climate keywords off your block list and actively include publications which produce reputable climate content. Not only that, but ask your social media partners what their climate disinformation policy is, and what tools they're developing for advertisers to help them support pro-climate creators.

The climate is not going to wait for society to get their act together. Unlike Exxon we as marketers now need to aggressively support the science and take responsibility for our role in shaping the narrative. The industry, wider society and our friends and families will remember how we acted at this crucial time.

Guest Author

Jake Dubbins, Co-Chair of the Conscious Advertising Network and Media Bounty


Jake is Co-chair of the Conscious Advertising Network (CAN), a cross industry group that believe that the ethics must now catch up with the technology of modern advertising. As well as being Co-founder and managing director of Media Bounty, a creative social media agency with a conscience. Advising clients as diverse as Bodyform, method, ecover and The Meatless Farm on using social to drive long-term brand growth. Jake is a passionate advocate of business as driver of social good. Media Bounty has funded the purchase of nearly 700 acres of critically threatened habitat through World Land Trust and the agency team volunteer for environmental, homeless and social cohesion charities.

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