„If you can’t live, breathe and go through with it, go for either a different purpose or none at all.“
The Dark Side of Sustainability
A strategists take on the holy grail that turns out to be the holy graveyard.
Remember the times around 2010 when brands were frantically searching for purpose and commercials consisted of eye-wetting, lip-shivering moods, and semi-fake societal ambitions? Finally, these times are over (whispers the tiny angel on my left shoulder). BUT THEY ARE NOT! (screams the red devil on my right). Purposeless brands that have tweaked their brand cores into a Mother Theresa-like cringe state still exist. But these days it’s not just a purpose brands are searching for. In many cases and briefings, it has something to do with supporting the environment or doing good, while going green. The good part: Strategists and concepters of all sorts, don’t have to rack their brains on squeezing any purpose out of multiple workshop afternoons full of lukewarm orange juice and sticky Tramezzini anymore. The bad part: The conversation at the end of the day is usually as clear as it is vague and it always circles around sustainability with or without tuna-filled white bread. Ok, let’s look beyond the ad bubble and at the UN climate summit that is taking place in and around Sharm el Sheikh’s air-conditioned all-inclusive hotels. CO2 emissions are still rising and a climate goal of 1.5 degrees global warming is unrealistic. Double it and it is still a maybe. No wonder Greta Thunberg boycotts the conference. No wonder it raises critical voices, questions, and concerns.
Failing a second time, after the Paris climate summit in 2015, would not only raise the question of the purpose of these climate summits, but also the worldwide political and economic will to change. Isn’t it good then, that brands talk about sustainability at the very least? Like all good questions in life, this also deserves a yes and no answer. Yes, it is good, because it shows the effort and awareness of brands to integrate sustainable measures of all sorts into their thinking and doing. And even if brands use sustainability without even knowing what it means, put it in the washer and take it out as a pink sock, they still keep the conversation going and hopefully will be identified as the pink sock they are. No, it is horrible because, in terms of brand strategy and the landscape of brands that talk about sustainability at the very second, the vague, eroded terms used become a CSR topic, a hygiene factor, and for some even a safe ticket to fall through the gutter. But, here it is, the infamous but. Some businesses put sustainable efforts at the very heart of their brand and excel. Take advertiser’s most beloved example Patagonia, which not only brings the attitude to the table but breathes its mission through its fearless founder Yvon Chouinard. And here comes the crucial aspect: Attitude. If you can’t live, breathe and go through with it, go for either a different purpose or none at all. Cutting through the sustainable noise out there with a me-too attitude, you will die in the Meta Ad or any other Media Graveyard the second you click promote.