Creactivism | Advertisers against harmful products

In a recent article on the Creative Review,  Naresh Ramchandani, a leading and influential creative copywriter, asked the entire industry if it is now time to introduce a ban similar to the one on cigarettes, on products that harm our planet, saying:

“By being production-heavy, or CO2-intensive, or non-reusable or non-recyclable, many of the products we’re paid to promote have an irrefutably negative effect on the environment. When an ad sells another one of these products, it advances its client’s profitability, but also harms the prospects of humanity. Which brings us to an extremely inconvenient truth for our industry that wasn’t raised at Cannes – in fact, I’m not sure I’ve seen it raised anywhere: that products like these shouldn’t be allowed to advertise.”

Two years ago, when I asked myself why I was so concerned about advertising and branded content & entertainment I had a clear and profound epiphany: responsibility. Leading the BC&E Association in Italy made it clear to me that there are no longer limits to brand persuasion, as now their messages are perfectly crafted as contents; which is a big opportunity but also implies a greater ethical responsibility. That led to considering how companies could play a ‘better role in the society. For example, if they used their efforts (investments, know-how, human capital…) to ‘do good’.

Purposeful communication is the way to tell a true unique story far behind the product or even the company history. There are many ways to tell a story, but not all of them are always the right fit. 


#CreActivism is a term I borrow from Pascal Gielen meaning a form of action, a critical process of reflection on the problems that afflict contemporaneity with an active approach to improve conditions on a daily basis through creativity. It is the perfect portmanteau of #Creactivity (which is a primordial act, physical birth, even before abstract speculation) and #Activism in its most contemporary and pacifist meanings.

Applied to advertising, CreActivism combines perfectly with a couple of other marketing trends: brand purposing and brand activism; the first concerns the corporate goal, mission and vision, the second regards its concrete actions.

What I consider CreActivism is a perfect unison between brand purpose, brand actions, brand communication.

And to have a better understanding of what CreActivism is, let’s take Patagonia as an example. CreActivism for Patagonia has meant the creation of a disruptive advertising campaign “Don’t buy this jacket”, and at the same time the implementation of substantial actions to protect the environment (investments in R&D against the polluting C8 polymer after being criticized by GreenPeace). Although their approach was risky, the message was intended to encourage people to consider the effect of their consumption practices on the environment. As a result, Patagonia managed to establish a strong community of consumers who appreciate the brand’s products, but most importantly, their values.

Of course, it’s not always easy to find an authentic and credible ‘why’ behind a product/company. And this can mean a potential backlash for brands that don’t walk the talk.

 Look at the textile sector– the most polluting after the Oil & Gas industry – and campaigns like ‘Conscious Exclusive’by H&M AN example of ‘alternative facts’, given that only 1% of recycled clothes become new H&M clothes.

Or the food industry which is responsible for more than 25% of greenhouse gas emissions and the epic fail of Chipotle Mexican Grill, for not demonstrating its sustainable agriculture and anti-GMO claims were supported by actions (remember the multi-award winning ‘Back to the start’ campaign in 2012?), as well as the operational failures leading to E-coli pandemic and a collapse in #reputation, which is still having to be rebuilt several years after the crisis.

In Chipotle’s case, study advestising declaiming sustainable agriculture was in total contradiction with the consumer perception after pandemic of E-coli.

As we all know brands are ultimately trying to sell more products, if they also ‘monetize’ human values it is a big ethical issue.

RELATED CONTENT: Purpose brands are determined to take the stand.

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Author: elena grinta

I have been dealing with communication for 20 years, I have worked in marketing for large international and Italian companies and I know the mechanisms of advertising persuasion. I decided to invest my know-how and my skills to use the available resources of companies (budgets but also human capital) in positive transformation. Because to students from all over the world I teach at Purpose Brands in Catholic University I wish to give more and more examples of virtuous companies that have invested for the future, of everyone (and there are already many!). Because if we watch, without acting, without taking responsibility, we have no excuse.