A glass-half-full approach to branding for climate change

A green initiative can feel like a ‘must-have’ for brands (and you can read our view on why this may not be that strategically sensible here). For good or for bad, we have a lot of companies talking about the climate crisis.

This article isn’t a question around if brands need a wider purpose. Rather, when we are talking about this stuff, can the messaging be more distinctive and ultimately get a better response?

Apocalypse fatigue.

The normal conversation tends to go something like this:

Planet Earth is in trouble
We are saving it by ____________

Which is all well and good. But this same old script leads to ‘apocalypse fatigue’. Even the very best of us can find this ‘gloomy white-noise’ tiring, which makes it all too easy to just pretend everything is groovy, and avoid the inconvenient truth.

Climate change is hard to actually see, and it may not impact us day-to-day for a good few years. This distance makes it difficult to visualise, which can often make change hard to find compelling.*

Reframing the message.

Perhaps we can breathe some life into the message by reframing it. Instead of talking about what happens if it all goes wrong, can we paint a picture of it all going right? Not avoiding the end of the world, but imagining a better one – giving people a rallying call and a reason to engage with the cause, rather than a reason to put their head in the sand.

A brilliant example is by Chobani, a US yoghurt brand with ethics in their DNA**. Their picturesque, animated ad shows rolling green landscapes, techy cityscapes, tables of healthy food, laughing families and flying robots. It’s about showing a better future. To quote Psychologist & Environmentalist Espen Stoknes – ‘with less guilt and fear attached to the subject, there is collective efficacy.’ It empowers us with the belief our society can actually do something pretty great. If we don’t mess it up.

A screen from a Chobani advert, stylised as a Ghibli style 2D animation. A mother and her child are playing under a tree with a futuristic city in the background.

Chobani takes inspiration from Studio Ghibli and other beautiful 2D animations, featuring a futuristic yet green cityscape.

The ad is an example of ‘Solarpunk’: a visual movement where artists envision a sustainable utopia: a vision for the world of tomorrow if we manage to live alongside nature. It’s all vibrant, ‘Deviant Art style’ concepts, and shows the extent we can be motivated by imagination and optimism.

A digital painting of a futuristic, urban city filled with plants and natural structures.

帝国少年 aka Imperial Boy – 2016. This artist regularly uses the combination of futuristic spaces and wild, beautiful nature to create urban utopias.

Focusing on the positive can also be a useful tactic to change behaviour. As Richard Shotton comments on the Social Proof bias: the more we can display a behaviour as commonplace, the more people will join in. So, by taking the light off the ‘scumbags’ who don’t contribute, and shining it on the ‘saints’ who do – it will only increase the impact. It doesn’t have to be as grandiose as saving the world. Maybe it’s just getting more people to put their tins of soup in the green bin.

Finding the ‘why’.

The last thing anybody wants is a world of sickeningly positive brands where we all hold hands and sing kumbaya. It’s not about taking the foot of the gas and putting on a front. The approach needs to be rooted in genuine efforts for change. Without real improvements it will a) feel suitably hollow, and b) mean that there is probably something more compelling to focus time and money on.

I’m not suggesting we strip out the rigour, the action, and the anger. It’s about just flipping the script slightly, focussing on the benefits, not just the downside. It’s ‘finding the why’, as Simon Sinek would chime in with.

To finish.

Repeating the same old tone is never a good way of getting a message to stick in people’s hearts and minds.

If it’s been decided a green purpose is worth including in the marketing mix, brands need to be aware their contemporaries may be saying the exact same thing. For those genuinely looking to elicit better change, whilst wanting to be heard amongst the noise – perhaps optimism will ring louder than pessimism.

*hugely offensive to all environmentalists and activists who, of course, aren’t included.
**this ad wouldn’t work for BP, or Domestos, obviously.

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