So, I'm sitting at home trying to work out what I'm going to say at the D&AD thing tomorrow. And I'm not getting very far. So I thought I'd see if I can work it out as a blog post instead.
I think most of the evening will be a panel/debatey thing, which doesn't require much preparation of stuff, but does need me to work out what I think about things, which I always find hard in the absence of conversation, so this is maybe part of that conversation.
The actual presentation bit is supposed to be about 5 minutes and this is the brief:
Brief introduction – who/what/where
What is the biggest hurdle your country has to overcome to turn the tide of climate change
Show 3 examples, from within your country/region, of creative branding that demonstrates good practice (preferably work by other agencies/companies rather than your own)
What lessons can others take from your country/region
I'll be very surprised if anyone sticks to 5 minutes.
Here's what I've been thinking following the conversation starter here.
At the moment we're caught between the need to do something serious and drastic about climate change and the realities of what a consumer capitalist system will allow. ie people will only vote for, and pay for, so much right now. It's possible that it's not enough (it's entirely likely in fact) but until the threats are even more palpable we have to operate within the limits of popular support.
Therefore I think we have to accept that people will continue to want to 'consume'. They still have a need for novelty, they still have a need for new experiences (which often involves travel), and they (they? - who am I kidding? I mean 'we') still have a need to display something of who we are through the things that we own. Meaning status, style, tribe, etc. The trick now is to bend that urge to consume into behaviours with minimal impact on the planet.
So, you start to ask questions like -
Can you deliver novelty without delivering more stuff?
Can you deliver new experiences of the world without burning tons of fuel?
Can we transform ideas of status so they're about reduced impact on the world, sensible consumption, and thoughtfulness?
And, can we create a minimal-impact version of consumer society that's attractive enough that the developing world will want to adopt it as a vision for their future (assuming they don't come up with something better)?
I guess a truncated version of that might serve as introduction.
Biggest hurdle we have to overcome - complexity
Apart from all the obvious ones; greed, apathy, entropy, I think the biggest issue we have to face is complexity. There are very few known knowns and lots of unknown unkowns. Every positive step someone takes is condemned by someone else as either hysterical panic, green-washing or insufficient incrementalism. It's very hard for anyone to 'win' because there seem to be very few completely unalloyed actions that anyone can take.
We Are What We Do's Anya Hindmarch bag project seemed like a good thing to me. It's fun and maybe a little superficial but that's exactly the kind of thing that might infect the popular imagination and create different behaviour, and certainly debate about the wasteful stupidity of plastic bags. Yet, it's easy to condemn the project too - the bags aren't organic cotton etc, so they're not that green, and that seems like an own goal. But then I bet they couldn't have done them for £5 if they'd made them organic. And the low price point seems part of the point to me. Equally, some people have said that all this fashion bag stuff is nonsense and the government should just ban plastic bags (and personally I'd go along with that) but is that politically realistic? Maybe it is now.
See what I mean about complexity?
I think we should applaud initiatives like M&S's Plan A partly because they're doing it in the face of all this doubt about exactly what the right thing is. They must have known that they'd be slagged off by many for greenwashing hysteria and by others for not going far enough yet they decided to do it anyway. And that's probably the thing that give me hope. Brands like M&S are reasonably in tune with mainstream opinion in this country and if they're doing something then I suspect the country is ready to do this and more.
I'm struggling with this bit, because I don't think it's really about branding, it's about action. The important bit about the Plan A stuff is that they're doing it, not how they brand it.
Things I'm talking about covering are:
Walkit, because I like the way it uses information to motivate you to do something positive. And that seems to me the big contribution can make. Branding is about adding information, ideas and emotions to generic services and things, to make them more desirable. If it can be done with walking, what other positive things might it be done to?
Innocent's Carbon Footprint project because I like it's relative modesty and realistic, practical approach (as opposed to the Virgin thing John cites in the comments) (and I know everyone always talks about Innocent at conferences, but this seems to be an appropriate time to do it).
And this Greenpeace ad (thanks Rory). I'm including this because it points to something interesting. I think we're only a few years away from casual air travel being as socially acceptable as wearing fur. (Which I think is a line stolen from John Grant.) This is a little like some of the early anti-fur work and it feels like it's starting to have a similar effect. Every social moment needs a leading edge and a trailing edge and this ad seems them working in tandem, Greenpeace at the lead, Virgin being the corporate follower. Or something.
I've got more to add, but I have to go to a meeting. At least I'm going on my bike....
...I'm back. Thanks Matt (see comments), perfect stuff. And just the reminder I needed to try and shoe-horn some extra things in:
I think I might open with this quote: "contemporary civil society can be led anywhere that looks attractive, glamorous and seductive". It's from the Viridian Green manifesto and has been stuck on my wall since it first showed up on the Viridian Green mailing list. And I think that's where our little branding world might be able to do our part for climate change. In making green-ness seem sexy, cool and interesting. Not worthy or necessary.
I want to fit this in there somewhere:
Because I think one of the ways that people are rethinking their relationship with brands, products and services is to do with what ownership really means. (Partly prompted by DRM concerns.) And I bet we'd be pushing against an open door if we tried to make long-life and repairability high status values for a product (to Ben's Porsche point - see comments). And the ability to fix stuff and tinker will clearly be high-status things in a post-conspicuous consumption Maslow heirachy. (Sorry, lapsed into bollocks there for a second.)
And, I'd like to talk about the responsibility of 'our industry' (whatever that is) to try and play its part in a chain of influence about how businesses conduct themselves. Advertising agencies are some of those most environmentally profligate organisations in the world (for their size), I sometimes think they're put on earth solely to have large quantities of polyboard driven around in the taxis. So we should examine our own consciences in these matters. Because if we don't do it, we'll be made to. As more and more clients adopt environmental pledges how long before carbon-neutrality becomes a pitch requirement? And how many agencies are ready to meet that. (A good start might be to read Marcus's piece on printing.)
And, given that I'm only supposed to be doing 5 minutes maybe I should stop there.
Matt's comments have really made me want to dive into a conversation about 'maximum idea, minimum stuff'. Or rather the notion that an idea can substitute for stuff, and that people's desire to consume could be satisfied without the creation of new stuff. I don't know what that looks like yet, but I suspect getting there will involve some consilient thinking - we'll need to collide brains that currently live in boxes labeled Industrial Design, UI, Software, Brand and probably Some Other Things. I don't know.
I really am rambling now. Better start trying to cram all that into 5 powerpoint slides.