Can Advertising Save The World?

Selling more things isn’t traditionally how we think of improving the planet, but a new movement in marketing is trying to align business and good.

Can Advertising Save The World?
[Image: TV static via Shutterstock]

The advertising industry can help save the world.


It’s a ludicrous statement, I know, considering it’s an industry known for being full of BS. But we spent two years speaking with some of the world’s top executives, scientists, and authors while making a documentary called The Naked Brand. We found that the right kind of branding can lead to tremendous changes for people and the planet. More importantly, it’s not exclusively altruistic. Rather, it’s the only way for corporations to reap huge financial rewards.

We didn’t expect to create a story about the advertising industry saving the world. We made The Naked Brand because we realized that the advertising industry is ready for a revolution. Advertising has been completely disrupted by technology and the data proves it. There are 30 billion pieces of information exchanged on Facebook every month. Consumer ratings and reviews are more than twice as trusted as paid advertisements, and over 90% of television ads are ignored. This means that consumers now have the power. They know when companies create crappy products or behave unethically. Advertising can still do amazing things, but it simply doesn’t have the power it once had. Brands are transparent. Technology has made them naked.

It’s About Creating A Platform

One of the most compelling examples of this new approach to brand building is Patagonia. The company built a platform around caring about the environment more than it cares about its own financial performance. In fact, Patagonia outs itself by publically broadcasting the negative impact each of their products has on the environment via the Footprint Chronicles, a section of their website that lets customers track the environmental impact of any Patagonia item. During a recent holiday season, Patagonia launched a campaign that said, “Don’t buy this jacket” and encouraged its customers to “repair, reuse, and recycle” clothing they already owned rather than buying more from Patagonia. Similarly Patagonia promotes its “Common Threads” effort on its website, urging consumers to buy less and reduce their environmental footprint.

To discourage sales is an unprecedented maneuver considering Patagonia is a major global corporation. However, they’ve found being great leads to great profits. In the words of Jill Dumain, Patagonia’s director of environmental strategy, “If I wanted to make the most money possible, I would invest in environmentally responsible supply chains. I’ve seen it proven you can make more money by doing that–these are the best years in our company’s history.” Or as Patagonia’s founder, Yvon Chouinard, said succinctly, “Every time we invest in the planet, we make more money.” In other words, a healthy planet and a satisfied customer are the most effective forms of advertising you can buy. The reason: Patagonia’s platform creates evangelists who can carry the brand message much more effectively than a paid advertisement.

This Is Not A Green Story

But here’s the catch: This is not a green story. Brands can’t just jump on the eco-friendly band-wagon unless it’s essential to their platform. Rather, this is a relationship story. Brands relating to customers. Relating to employees. Relating to people.

One of the great recent examples is Red Bull, which has taken up the mantel of space exploration, a vital area of human endeavor that can bring improvements in medicine, transportation, and energy consumption. Space exploration shares the same DNA as the explorers from the 15th century–the DNA that helps us locate our limits, re-define our potential, and improve the global community. The problem now is that governments can no longer afford space travel. So, Red Bull financed Felix Baumgartner’s now celebrated space jump from an altitude of 128,000 feet.


Subsequently, Red Bull evolved by associating itself with an event that expanded the limits of science. It also generated an unprecedented increase in marketing metrics. Red Bull increased its Facebook likes more than 10 times, its Facebook comments more than 16 times and its number of retweets more than 90 times. Many marketing executives would chew off an arm for these numbers. More importantly, these numbers lead to bottom-line results. Red Bull dominates the sporting drink category with a market share that’s 20% higher than its nearest rival.

Admittedly, Red Bull isn’t typically a healthy drink, and it doesn’t pretend to be. But their partnership with scientific exploration demonstrates that virtually any company can help move the planet forward and reap huge returns doing so.

Big Industry Small Adjustments

Advertising is a $300 billion industry in America alone. More importantly, it’s the connection point between consumers and trillions of dollars of commerce. When the ad industry embraces transparency and drives corporations to focus inward before focusing outward, it can help improve the planet by treating customers, employees and the environment better. Given that more than half of the world’s 100 largest economic entities are corporations, small changes to corporate behavior can lead to huge results.

Corporations shouldn’t do good simply because it feels good. That motivation isn’t sustainable. They should do it because it leads to massive profitability. Consider the triple-digit stock growth of some the top-performing corporations such as Under Armour, Amazon, and Chipotle. At first glance, they have very little in common. But the one thing they share is that each has an identifiable brand platform, and they’ve wholeheartedly embraced the lessons of transparency. When brands invest in themselves and their customers, that investment delivers incredible return. Under Armour, for example, invests in a relentless pursuit of enhanced athletic performance. Amazon spends money on making shopping incredibly convenient, and Chipotle fosters relationships with small family farms to offer healthier food alternatives.

When brands stand for something, create unprecedented ideas, and engage in daring investments, they expand the definition of advertising. The industry is no longer limited to a 30-second TV ad or a 300-pixel banner ad. The creative canvas has expanded. That’s where things get exciting because the most effective new ideas are what create change.


About the author

Jeff Rosenblum is a pioneer, a disruptor, an innovator and an admitted pain in the ass. He is widely regarded as one of the leading innovators in the field of digital marketing and has worked on teams that have helped revolutionize market research, publishing, sports broadcasting and interactive advertising.