Environmental activists Extinction Rebellion have turned their fire on the advertising industry in a public letter, encouraging it to use its expertise in manipulating public opinion for good or risk mass public protests against it.
Speaking to the Guardian, one of the authors of the letter, which was written by Extinction Rebellion members with decades of experience of the advertising industry, said the group was not “singling out advertising, as we previously disrupted fashion week and are systematically challenging all industries who have the platform, influence and skills to tackle this epoch-defining crisis but are failing to do so in any meaningful way”.
“Though our letter is addressed to the boardroom, we ask everyone within the industry to ‘Tell the Truth’ about the climate and ecological emergency,” he continued. “This is the first of Extinction Rebellion’s demands, to business and governments; the vital step required to wake everyone up and drive action to deal with this crisis.
“Advertising has helped promote high-carbon lifestyles and hyper-consumption. However, if we’re to survive, this must change rapidly.”
In particular, “as mediators between the public and brands, the advertising industry is uniquely capable of driving rapid behaviour change across society, around the world and should take the lead rather than be driven. This isn’t a hippy pipe dream.
“Advertising will increasingly be seen alongside oil and logging as obviously toxic industries and those with the job title ‘creatives’ will soon find themselves rebranded as ‘destroyers’.”
In the letter which was released on Friday, the group addresses itself to “founders, CEOs, CCOs, CMOs, CFOs, MDs and CDs of the advertising industry”, playfully chiding them: “You didn’t think we’d forget about you?”
Addressing industry executives, it reads: “What can I do, you’re thinking, I’m just the founder/CEO/CMO/CCO/CFO/MD/CD of a global advertising agency.”
The letter continues: “The answer is: you can do anything you want and you can shift mass behaviour in a heartbeat. One of the reasons we’ve got here is because you’ve been selling things to people that they don’t need.”
It ridicules some of the ways that advertising companies currently show their green credentials, saying that “making a small campaign to give up drinking from plastic straws is not going to cut it … neither is doing some pro-bono for an anti-palm oil initiative.”
The group demands companies “declare a climate & ecological emergency and act accordingly. Persuade your clients and their audiences to do the same.”
It cautions: “If you don’t make this change, consumers will insist you do. Look at the streets of London in the last month. People are beginning to see where the problems lie, and soon they will see you.”
A spokesman for the Advertising Association said that “every business knows it has a role to play in tackling issues such as climate change and advertising is a powerful tool to shift behaviour and change the way we do things as a society.
“We are seeing challenging advertising emerging on climate change – the recent Ovo Energy ‘Get Mad’ campaign being a prominent example.
“Responding to climate change is already on many advertisers’ and agencies’ minds in every aspect of their businesses so we expect to see many more campaigns tackling this in the months and years ahead.”