Why can’t every ad be green?

Jane Asscher, CEO & Founding Partner of 23red on the importance of sustainability, not just because it’s the right thing to do but because it is a necessity to future proof a business.

Jane Asscher

CEO & Founding Partner 23red


Being sustainable isn’t about doing the right thing, it’s an economic issue and a necessity to future-proof a business. For marketers it is the way to bring the future into their organisation, to follow the trends affecting the outside world and to help shape business growth. People want to see brands do more than just sell their product or service. They want to see a wider contribution and for this to happen, brands need to understand where they are on their sustainability journey, and how they can help address the consumers’ concerns.

The pandemic has accelerated businesses and brands need to rethink and redesign the way they work and how they advertise. Sustainability has become more important for shoppers over the past few years, but it took COVID-19 to show just how vulnerable we are and that there is no time to waste in pushing forward a sustainable agenda. And brand interest is growing with the £134m government investment to build back greener.

According to exclusive research conducted by 3Gem for 23red, the environment leads the list of consumer concerns when making ethical purchase decisions. Three quarters of UK adults are interested in knowing more about the good behaviour of the companies from which they are considering buying. But the research also found that price, quality and convenience still drive purchases so brands must become more sustainable without compromising other aspects. Company ethics do influence people’s purchase decisions with only 34% believing that industries were having a positive effect on sustainability.

Marketers must motivate their business so they can get to the future first and encourage everyone else to join them.

Jane Asscher

Transparency gains trust

To get consumers on board we need them to be the solution and not part of the problem. We need to connect with them on a more personal level and make the information shared through advertising more comparable and easier to understand. Brands need to be completely transparent to gain the trust of their customers.

At a recent webinar we ran, Unilever’s former Chief Marketing and Communications Officer Keith Weed talked about the expression he likes to live by, and introduced for Unilever brands, ‘Brand say, brand do’, where not only should a brand talk about the positive changes it is making, but it also needs to act on them.

“Great brands walk ahead of their customers,” he said, urging companies not to wait for legislation or regulation to force them to act, but to start their journey now, in whatever way they can, and gain benefits rather than being caught in the past.

Brands not only need to have purpose, but they also need to prove it. Failing to do so will lose you customers as they can no longer trust your brand and how you advertise. The purpose of your brand isn’t the be all or end all. Your product or service needs to be top of its game, but what it will do is deepen and add meaning to your brand and consumer relationship. Greenwashing won’t work. If you make an untruthful statement or mislead your customers into thinking that the product or service you sell is eco-friendly, you will not only damage the relationship with your consumers but also fall behind in getting to the future first.

What was once personal is now universal 

The Advertising Association’s CEO Stephen Woodford talked about how COVID-19 has highlighted how interconnected we are. Brands are still producing ads but in a radically different way and showcasing the measures they are taking for their business to become sustainable. So, one day, all ads may be green ads because that will represent what the brands are doing.

And he said brands can act collaboratively, as seen with Ad Net Zero which currently has 15 companies signed up and others will follow. This is something we must solve together.

Brands and businesses need to start engaging in ways that can really improve the future. Sustainability must be built into every product. People shouldn’t have to pay a premium for that, it should be the consequence of businesses operating properly. So, marketers can use trends to show management and leaders some of the big shifts that are gathering pace. Sustainability is being considered through the whole value chain, and what once was a personal issue is now universal.

Weed has said he was asked to make the business case for sustainability to which he retorted, what’s the business case for the alternative? Destroying our planet.

Over the past decade we have seen that behaviour change can be incredibly slow, whether that is our relationship with recycling, waste or even climate change. But consumers are starting to adopt different attitudes and behaviours. A sustainable future will only happen if brands come together and push forward. Local communities that are championing sustainability are all joined in a global way, but every impact that is made is experienced by an individual as well as having a global consequence.

Marketers must motivate their business so they can get to the future first and encourage everyone else to join them. The journey starts with a single step. And remember that in 2025 businesses will have to report their carbon footprint: that’s only three years away.

Guest Author

Jane Asscher

CEO & Founding Partner 23red


Jane set up 23red with Creative Director Sean Kinmont in October 2000. A behaviour change expert, Jane has led the development of award-winning social marketing and behaviour change strategies on topics as wide-ranging as health and well-being, skills and education, environment and sustainability, road and rail safety and equality. Jane co-authored the Change4Life marketing strategy and remains a strategic adviser to Public Health England. She is a Fellow of the IPA and sits on the IPA Council. She has been a regular industry columnist and published many articles and thought pieces on effective behaviour change. She has been honoured at the Women of the Year Awards.

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