Advertisers Against Harmful Products

“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.”

In a recent article in the Creative Review,  Naresh Ramchandani, a leading influential creative copywriter, asked the entire industry whether it is now time to introduce a ban similar to the one on cigarettes, on products that harm our planet, stirring up advertisers against harmful products.

Two years ago, when I asked myself why I was so concerned about advertising and branded content & entertainment (BC&E), 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 it also implies a greater ethical responsibility. That led to considering how companies could play a “better role in the society” (for example, whether they used their efforts (investments, know-how, human capital…) to “do good”).

For Good 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 #Creativity (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 concerning the corporate goal, mission, and vision, the second regarding its concrete actions.

I consider #CreActivism to be a perfect unison between brand purpose, brand actions, and 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 (for example, investments in R&D against the pollution of C8 polymer after Greenpeace criticized the company). Although the approach was risky, the message was intended to encourage people to consider the effects 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, its values.

Of course, it’s not always easy to find an authentic and credible “why” behind a product or 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 and gas industry––and campaigns like “Conscious Exclusive” by H&M. “Conscious Exclusive” is an example of “alternative facts,” given that only 1% of recycled clothes become new H&M clothes.

Take also the food industry, which is responsible for more than 25% of greenhouse gas emissions and a few public health scares. Take Chipotle as an example: the chain’s actions have not supported its sustainable agriculture and anti-GMO claims (remember the multi-award winning “Back to the Start” campaign in 2012?), as can be proven with 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, advertising claiming sustainable agriculture was in total contradiction with the consumer perception after the E. coli outbreak.

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 A Stand.

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Our mission is to monitor Advertising to make certain that companies obey ethical standards of trustworthiness and transparency while communicating their commitment to addressing the great challenges of the New Millennium. From climate emergency to social inequality through all the issues included in the Sustainable Development Goals Agenda, we monitor the consistency of their statements, if they are ‘walking the talk’. With rising misinformation and commercial ownership, independent information is more and more rare. We think citizens deserve access to accurate analyses with integrity at their heart, so we can all make critical decisions about our lives, health and enviroment – based on fact, not fiction.
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Author: elena grinta

I'm a journalist with keen a vision of markets and new trends and 20+ years of experience in Communication. Founding a 'for benefit' start-up changed my professional (and personal) life forever. I used to work in marketing depts and realized the better I did at work, the worst I impacted on people and planet. I then considered Marketing a 'weapon' that could be used for the benefit of all humans (Cialdini was extremely useful at that time ;-)). I quit my well-paid job as director and started an innovative start-up willing to let people know better if brands walk the talk. Everybody could search and investigate on the web but nobody does! as it's boring and time spending. What if WE could do it for you?! This is how BeIntelligent was born!

Purposeful Communication