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You can help save the Earth by making better campaigns

MANILA, PHILIPPINES — In late 2023, Sir John Hegarty, Founder of BBH and founding shareholder of Saatchi & Saatchi, penned an article likening the current advertising landscape to fast fashion. 

“Our industry is not dissimilar except we’re producing fast advertising,” he wrote, “to hopefully improve our click-through rate. We produce work that is eminently disposable.”

Much like fast fashion, “fast advertising” is having a tremendous negative impact on the environment. In 2016 alone, a study estimated that online advertising consumed roughly 106 TWh of energy — the equivalent of about 95,328 average American households. That same study estimated that online advertising was also responsible for 10% of the total carbon emissions of the internet infrastructure.

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That number has most likely spiked dramatically post-pandemic. Not only is the pace at which the advertising and marketing industries produce online ads faster than it’s ever been, but the rapid adoption of resource-heavy new technologies like AI has also added to their environmental impact. As brands battle it out in the current form of the attention economy, the “act fast and cast a wide net” approach comes with ecological costs we don’t often consider.

Think about it: the average carbon footprint of a single ad campaign is estimated to be 70 tons CO2e, or the equivalent of what seven people produce in a year. But how many ad campaigns are created across the world? How much energy is spent producing them in the first place? How many emails, art studies, and pitch decks add to that carbon footprint?

Above all that lies the most important question: How can advertisers bring those numbers down without compromising the growth of their business?

As part of the Year of Creative Sustainability, adobo Magazine held its 2024 LIA Young Creatives Competition under the banner of a bold theme: “Creativity Saves the World.” That phrase is perhaps more apt than originally planned. If, after all, “fast advertising” threatens the planet, then a slower, more methodical approach might be the solution that saves it. Maybe the industry needs to focus less on speed and reach and more on the kind of creativity that impacts more effectively and efficiently.

Instead of producing ads every time a new public opinion is formed, why not create campaigns that elevate and nurture the customers’ values? Instead of reaching 100 million views to convert 3% of that audience, why not target 100,000 people with a 30% conversion rate? Instead of investing resources in simply raising awareness for advocacy, why not spend those same resources on more impactful action?

Why not try to achieve more by doing less?

Creativity remains the world’s most important resource in this respect, and it just so happens to be one of the few that lies in infinite reserve. There is a need to rethink the “fast advertising” approach that encourages advertisers and agencies to settle for less-than-stellar campaigns that gamble on speed and quantity to achieve results and instead push for work with results that last longer than today’s day-by-day cycle of virality.

It’s time to think more about the value created per ad rather than the average value produced by dozens. It’s time to focus on making the audience slow down and pay attention rather than constantly playing catch-up with them. It’s time to inspire peers within advertising and other creative industries to do the same and re-strategize efforts around more sustainable processes.

It’s time for the advertising industry to leverage the vast amounts of human creativity within its ranks for the planet’s sake.

As Sir John wrote, “Creativity is the greenest fuel available to our industry.” Now, more than ever, we need to use it.

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